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Minor League Notebook / Elliott Teaford : Plemel Gets Guided Tour Through Life in Class A

June 26, 1989|Elliott Teaford

When Lee Plemel was a high school and college pitcher, he collected school records and honors galore. He was a consistent, hard-throwing right-hander.

At Laguna Hills High School, he was named to the All-Southern Section and All-Orange County teams in his junior and senior seasons.

His school records for batting average (.472) and hits (45) in a season still stand. As a pitcher he was 12-1, setting a school record for victories in a season. He also had 110 strikeouts in his senior season, 1984.

Plemel went to Stanford and led the Cardinal to the College World Series title in 1987 and '88. He was 12-8 with a 115 strikeouts in his final college season and was named most outstanding player in the 1988 Series.

Then Plemel got drafted and he had to confront the everyday grind of professional baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals picked him on the eighth round of the June 1988 draft.

Welcome to the pro ranks, Mr. Plemel, now pack your bags.

Plemel went through an uncomfortable first season, finding himself in more unfamiliar towns than he cared to count.

He went from the College World Series to the Cardinals' Class-A team in Hamilton, Canada. After pitching one game, going five innings for a victory, he was sent packing to St. Petersburg, Fla., the Cardinals' top Class-A team.

He struggled there with a 1-2 mark and a 6.97 earned-run average and was off again, this time to Savannah, Ga., another of the club's four Class-A teams. He was 1-1 with a 2.59 ERA at Savannah.

Overall, he was 3-3 with a 3.32 ERA in his nine starts in 1988.

When the 1989 season started, Plemel found himself at the only Cardinals' Class-A club he hadn't visited--Springfield, Ill.

He found it to his liking, posting a 5-2 record with a 1.88 ERA in 10 starts.

"I felt pretty good there," Plemel said. "I felt like I was dominating. I felt like I could get to the seventh inning in every start and that's pretty much what I did."

Plemel did so well the Cardinals decided to move him back to their top Class-A team at St. Petersburg.

"I like it a lot here," said Plemel, who has been in St. Petersburg since the beginning of June. "It's really warm, which I like. This (the Florida State League) is a great league. All the parks are great."

For instance, St. Petersburg's home field is Al Lang Stadium, the St. Louis Cardinals' spring training headquarters.

The more familiar surroundings seem to have helped Plemel, who is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in four starts for the Cardinals.

"I only had half a season last year," he said. "I'm starting to know what to expect. I'm pretty satisfied with the way things are going."

Look-alikes? Tom Baine, a former UC Irvine outfielder now playing at Louisville, the St. Louis Cardinals' triple-A affiliate, has drawn rave reviews for his hitting this season.

Baine, who played at Irvine in 1985 and '86, is hitting .302 with 20 RBIs and one home run. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who's in only his first season of triple-A ball and who was taken in the 30th round by the Cardinals.

George Rorrer of Baseball America Magazine wondered what major leaguer, past or present, Baine's hitting style most closely resembled.

Mike Jorgensen, a former St. Louis Cardinal first baseman and current Louisville manager, said it's Wade Boggs.

"That isn't to say that Baine hits like Boggs, but he's the same type of hitter," Jorgensen said.

Last season, Baine was the only player in the Cardinals' farm system to bat higher than .300, hitting .307 at double-A Arkansas.

At one point this season he was the leading hitter in the American Assn. with a .328 average. He's now third behind Junior Noboa and Razor Shines, both of Indianapolis, the Montreal Expos' affiliate.

He had 12 multiple-hit games and 34 walks in his first 44 games.

"I try to have discipline at the plate, try not to help the pitcher by swinging at bad pitches," Baine said. "If you do that, you get ahead in the count and get better pitches to hit."

Brent Mayne, former Cal State Fullerton catcher, made the most of his professional debut. Playing in his first game for the Kansas City Royals' Class-A affiliate at Baseball City in Florida, Mayne singled in his first at-bat.

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