Fifteen games into the season, it looks like the Savannah Sand Gnats are stashing quite a bit of offensive talent in one of their hotel rooms.
Roommates Brandon Nimmo and Kevin Plawecki ended Friday night ranked first and fourth, respectively, in the South Atlantic League in batting average after combining for seven hits in a 7-2 road win over the Lakewood Blue Claws.
Nimmo went 4-for-4 with a triple, a walk and two runs scored, while Plawecki homered, doubled and collected four RBIs.
"It helps to be able to bounce ideas off each other," Plawecki said. "We definitely, at night, we'll talk about stuff just sitting around the hotel room."
Whatever was talked about Thursday night, it paid off Friday at FirstEnergy Park. Plawecki went yard in the sixth inning off reliever Nicholas Hanson, hitting his third homer of the season and second in three games after he connected in the ninth inning on Tuesday against Greensboro.
"That was a huge at-bat," Savannah manager Luis Rojas said of Tuesday's homer. "He just kept fouling pitches off and battling with breaking balls and fastballs. Finally, they threw him a breaking ball, a hanger, and he hit it over the left-center wall."
Rojas said that longball was emblematic of what's made Plawecki effective this season. The Mets' No. 17 prospect found moderate offensive success last year at short-season Brooklyn after New York drafted him 35th overall. He batted .250 with a .729 OPS in 61 games, showing strong plate discipline but failing to show much power in a tough hitter's environment.
The advanced approach was no surprise -- Plawecki struck out only 28 times in 154 games over three years at Purdue. But his 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame suggested he could add some power to his contact-heavy offensive game, and that's what's happening in the SAL. Plawecki's climbing the leaderboard with a .382 average, .444 on-base percentage and .709 slugging percentage.
"His hands are always in a good position to get the barrel on the ball," Rojas said. "He's ready for the fastball, but he can adjust for those secondary pitches. He battles in at-bats and gets into good hitting counts."
"I'm definitely a lot more comfortable," Plawecki said. "Coming into the season, I knew a lot more of what to expect. Last year was a good starting point for me, but I didn't succeed as much as I did in college. It made me step back and make adjustments mentally."
Just as impressive to Rojas has been Plawecki's work behind the plate. His catching tools are strong but don't leap off scouts' notebooks. What likely will keep him at the position long-term are his intangible qualities.
The 22-year-old called his own pitches in college, which is fairly rare, and improved his reputation as a leader and game-caller last summer with the Cyclones. This year, all but one Sand Gnats' starting pitcher has an ERA below 2.00, which Rojas thinks is at least a partial credit to Plawecki's catching talents.
"His leadership skills are the most impressive thing," Rojas said. "After that, he's a really good receiver and a really good blocker. He's going to keep getting better, he still has room to grow. That's something he knows he needs to keep working on to move up the ladder and make the big leagues.
"He has a pretty good idea of the game. You have a guy out there whose thoughts and game plan are pretty solid for every pitcher who goes out there during the game."
Especially impressive has been Plawecki's work with a staff loaded with Latin American hurlers. Brooklyn's entire rotation last year was from non-English-speaking countries, providing an interesting challenge for the Carmel, Ind., native.
"I took some Spanish in high school, but I'm by no means fluent," said Plawecki, who has sharpened his linguistic skills since being drafted. "I know a little here and there to get me by and communicate with those guys in certain situations. It's important for me to build a relationship with them and it's important for them to feel comfortable with me back there.
"I can bounce ideas off them and feel comfortable talking to them about what I see. There's no reason to treat them differently than other guys just because I can have English conversations with some guys."
Added Rojas, "It's extremely important. He's going to have to catch pitchers from Latin American countries, from Venezuela and Puerto Rico and so on. That skill is really a plus for him. It's good that he has it in his repertoire."
Nimmo, meanwhile, continued to break out in his first full season of pro ball. The 20-year-old center fielder went 0-for-4 on Thursday but was 10-for-19 over the four previous games, all multi-hit efforts. Since Sunday, he's 14-for-27 at the plate.
Rojas said he thinks a lot of the 2011 first-round (13th overall) pick's success can be attributed to the development and consistency of his daily routine. Nimmo grew up in Cheyenne, Wyo., and instead of playing high school and summer ball against elite competition like youngsters in Florida, Texas and California, he plied his trade in American Legion ball. Last year, Nimmo faced the challenge of adapting to elite competition and the daily grind of pro baseball in Brooklyn. This year, Rojas is seeing the fruits of those labors.
"He impresses me a lot because he used to only play a couple times a week and he wasn't seeing the same competition as he was after he signed," Rojas said. "It's very impressive and it's all the credit to him just for his mental toughness and his abilities. As a person, he's a great kid and a great addition to any ballclub."
"He's a good guy to be around," Plawecki said of his roommate. "He obviously likes to be as successful as he can and obviously he's a competitor."