While the 2014 season will not make or break Gavin Cecchini’s career, the young shortstop is one of the most important players in the New York Mets' farm system. It may take time for Cecchini to reach his potential, but if he can make strides at the plate this season both he and the Mets will be in a better position moving forward.
Cecchini has the potential to be a very valuable asset to the Mets because of his ability to play shortstop, but until he starts to make strides with his bat, his progress will be limited and his value diminished.
The Mets drafted Cecchini with the 12th overall selection in the 2012 MLB Draft, which was an interesting decision at the time. Cecchini’s biggest appeal as a prospect coming into the draft was not his potential tools or high ceiling but instead his baseball instincts and projected ability to stay at shortstop—a valuable trait considering the dearth of quality shortstops around the majors.
On the surface, it appeared as though the Mets were overcompensating for their first round selection in 2011 of Brandon Nimmo. Nimmo was a projectable athlete with a smooth swing and raw instincts while Cecchini lacked the ideal projection of a first-round pick, but excelled when it came to his baseball instincts. Former Baseball Prospectus writer Kevin Goldstein wrote (subscription required) following the draft that many teams liked Cecchini and were impressed by his baseball acumen, but felt that he “had a price tag that was seen as a bit ahead of his talent.”
Since Cecchini entered the Mets’ farm system in 2012, he has failed to look like a first-round pick on the field other than the fact he is still playing shortstop. In 2012, he hit a meager .246 with an unimpressive .641 OPS in the Appalachian League. Injuries slowed down his 2013 campaign with the Brooklyn Cyclones where he improved slightly at the plate with a .273 batting average, but showed even less impact potential, slugging just .314.
As of right now, it is hard for fans to be excited about Cecchini. He doesn’t have massive power, he doesn’t make supremely athletic plays at shortstop and has made little improvement at the plate in his two years playing professionally. His lack of tools will never allow him to become an elite prospect for the Mets, something fans could hold against him because he was a first-round pick. Also, many fans are upset because the team passed on right-hander Michael Wacha in the 2012 draft, evidenced in the tweet below.
Wacha dazzled the baseball world while pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of the season and in the playoffs, while Cecchini disappointed fans with his uninspired play in the New York-Penn League. Fans should not hold this against Cecchini or the Mets, however, as the MLB Draft is one of the hardest to evaluate players correctly among all sporting leagues.
Despite all this, he has the potential to be a key part of the Mets’ future. While 2014 isn’t a make or break season for him, the strides he makes this year could accelerate his ascension to the major leagues.
The key for Cecchini to maximize his potential lies in his bat.
Even as a first-round pick, scouts didn't project him to hit for significant power. Prior to being drafted, Kevin Goldstein ranked him as the 17th best prospect and saw almost no projection for power, but believed he had “a smooth line drive stroke,” which could make him an asset in a batting order if combined with a solid approach at the plate.
Mets Vice President of Player Development and Scouting Paul DePodesta told Toby Hyde of Metsminorleagueblog.com the organization’s view of Cecchini’s offensive potential heading into the 2013 season:
"Offensively, we think he’s a guy who is going to hit first or second in a lineup and be a very tough out, hit for average, get on base, hit for a little power. We’re not expecting him to go and hit 30 homers, but he’s not going to hit three either. There’s some strength in there, and there are going to be some doubles. He does everything well."
The organization is obviously going to present their prospect in a positive fashion, but DePodesta does a good job of explaining the best-case scenario for their young shortstop.
Mets fans should remain patient and optimistic with Cecchini, as John Bernhardt of Metzmerizedonline.com pointed out today that even future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter struggled in his first two years in the professional ranks.
Also, by many accounts and evidenced by the comments from his coaches in the above video, Cecchini is a very hard worker. This is an attribute that cannot be overlooked when evaluating baseball prospects, as almost nobody enters the minor leagues good enough to play in the majors; it is up to the prospects to work and capitalize on their talents.
If Cecchini can improve his offense significantly in the 2014 season through hard work and staying healthy, he could be an option for the Mets at shortstop sooner rather than later.
Because of his early struggles and lack of improvement in his career thus far, scouting websites this offseason believe that he is far from the big leagues. Fangraphs’ Marc wrote that he thinks Cecchini could make his debut in late 2016 but more likely in 2017, while Baseball America thinks (subscription required) “he’s likely four full years away.”
I would agree with these scouting assessments, but Cecchini has the ability to change these beliefs in 2014. He already has the solid defense most still believe will allow him to play shortstop, and if his bat shows a marked improvement as well, he could be the type of prospect to accelerate his own advancement to the majors.
Teams tend to be more cautious with promoting high-ceiling prospects with raw tools (a la Brandon Nimmo) because they usually need to refine their raw abilities before getting exposed at higher levels, which could set them back. If Cecchini figures out how to approach professional pitching, he could reach his ceiling faster than other prospects and fill a gaping hole on the Mets’ big league roster as soon as late 2015 (although 2017 is still a more realistic target).
Cecchini will likely never play on an All Star team or marvel fans with his physical gifts, and right now his bat is holding him back from moving up the ladder in the Mets’ farm system. Despite this, fans should pay close attention to him in 2014, because if his hard work and baseball instincts translate into success, he could be an important part of the Mets' future.
Shortstops are hard to come by in the big leagues. Cecchini’s success in 2014 will help indicate to fans whether he can be a key cog in the Mets organization at some point down the road.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.