The St. Louis Cardinals’ release of former first-round pick Nick Plummer might have the team once again lamenting what could have been.
Former 23rd overall pick Nick Plummer was languishing in the minors for five years, and chances had grown slim on whether he’d ever reach the big leagues. But the 2015 first-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals broke out in Double-A Springfield in 2021, and the Cardinals released him after the season. Wait, what?
The Cardinals’ decision to cut bait with Plummer might have come as a surprise to many fans; after all, he had just hit .280 in 2021 and had clearly figured something out. But the Cardinals didn’t add him to the 40-man roster and let him walk in free agency. Fans have become familiar with former Cardinals racking up stats with their new teams, and Plummer is someone who could punish the team yet again.
Plummer greatly improved his walk and strikeout rates in 2021 while also finding a bit of a power stroke, clubbing 15 home runs on the season. He was named the team’s minor league Player of the Month for July, and his drastic improvement and former top-prospect pedigree make it questionable why the Cardinals cut bait with him, but they’re clearly skeptical that he’s for real.
The Cardinals have so far protected three players from the Rule 5 draft: pitchers Freddy Pacheco and Jake Walsh and utility player Brendan Donovan. With the team being deeper in position player prospects than in pitchers, it makes sense that they’d protect some of their arms. Donovan also excelled in 2021, playing at three minor league levels and hitting .304 with 12 long balls.
Still, it seems Plummer could have fit in the team’s outfield plans as a reserve, with Lars Nootbaar the only somewhat proven fourth outfielder on the team as Justin Williams and Austin Dean looked overmatched during their time with the big club.
Plummer should be a hot name on the market for teams looking for prospects. At 25, Plummer is no longer a spring chicken, and he’d likely be promoted aggressively wherever he winds up. If his breakout was for real, the members of the front office could once again be under scrutiny for letting another gem slip through their fingers.