Gavin Cecchini has always seemed disappointing as a prospect, lacking any explosive tools or flashy high ceilings expected of a first-round pick. He was drafted after Addison Russell and before Corey Seager, who both have played like future superstars ever since they were drafted; Cecchini, on the other hand, has put up middle-of-the-road numbers while receiving lukewarm reports from evaluators. Cecchini has received comps to Zack Cozart and Pete Kozma while Russell and Seager are among the top prospects in baseball. Cecchini has had the public perception against him from the moment he was drafted.
It will always be difficult to get excited about Cecchini knowing that it could be Russell or Seager instead, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has made some major developments in the past year that should give Mets fans hope that he can be a solid big leaguer.
Despite Cecchini’s less-than-sexy tools, the fact he has made improvements in key areas from last season is quite promising and a sign of his elite work ethic, even if his stats aren’t setting the world on fire.
The most notable improvement has been his power production, which has gone from nonexistent to promising.
Prior to this season, Cecchini had just one career home run, which he hit in 2012 while in Kingsport. He was unable to hit one out in Brooklyn last season, and he hit just eight doubles and no triples. Cecchini is by no means a prospect because of his power projection, but the lack of any type of extra-base production last season raised many eyebrows, and rightfully so.
However, this season, Cecchini has found his extra-base stroke. Cecchini has continued to play in pitcher-friendly parks, yet has racked up 23 doubles, four triples, and eight home runs (granted, in over twice as many plate appearances), posting a .380 slugging percentage versus his .314 mark in 2013.
The below video is a great example of how much stronger Cecchini is this season.
While the ball in this clip arguably should have been caught, Cecchini drove the pitch the other way and released the bat with one hand; although he made imperfect contact, he still drove the ball to a deep part of the stadium. Cecchini has become bigger and stronger, and if he can continue to do so while improving his hitting skills and maintaining his ability to play shortstop, he has the potential to provide serious value at the major league level.
The improving power numbers are nice, but Cecchini has improved just as much in an arguably equally important area: his approach at the plate.
Last season in Brooklyn, Cecchini walked just 6.6 percent of the time. Considering that he doesn’t have the same thunder or preternatural hitting ability of many top prospects, developing the ability to get on base would make him a much more valuable commodity. This season, he has made significant strides in this area, walking at a 9.7 percent clip in Savannah and a 12.1 percent rate in St. Lucie. He has also done this while maintaining a consistent strikeout rate, which is very impressive since taking more pitches leads to deeper counts, usually meaning more strikeouts.
Cecchini’s strong walk rate is a good sign on its own, but the fact that it has significantly improved speaks to one of Cecchini’s greatest—and well-documented—traits as a prospect: his work ethic. Approach at the plate is one of the hardest things to change in advanced players, yet Cecchini has adapted his game so that he can get on base more and add to his value.
While Cecchini has continued improve with the bat this season, a major concern has developed regarding his defense.
Baseball Prospectus’s Jeff Moore brought up the issue of Cecchini’s defense during spring training. In an article in which Moore raved about the defense of fellow Mets minor league shortstops Amed Rosario and Luis Guillorme, he was not impressed with Cecchini:
Cecchini is currently out of position as a shortstop. This was painfully obvious watching him take groundballs in a group with Rosario and Guillorne [sic], whose smooth actions made Cecchini look robotic by comparison. He has the athleticism and hand-eye coordination to get away with awkward actions and mechanical movements at the position in practice, but he doesn't look natural or comfortable. His hands are stiff and have no give, instead jabbing at the ball, especially on the backhand. Right now he's getting by with athleticism at the position and will need to greatly refine his movements to stay there.
As far as Cecchini’s future is concerned, this report is terrifying. This is a much bigger concern for Cecchini than it is for most prospects. If he can hit for a modest average with marginal power and solid on-base skills while playing an adequate shortstop, he could be a solid major leaguer. However, if it is deemed he can no longer handle the position, his ceiling suddenly shrinks to that of a utility player.
Fortunately for Mets fans, other evaluators still believe he can play shortstop in the major leagues. Still, the fact that any evaluator would question it is disconcerting. The ability to play short is Cecchini’s bread and butter; it’s an advantage he has over other young Mets like Dilson Herrera and Wilmer Flores, who have much higher offensive ceilings but are best suited for other positions. If Cecchini is relegated to second base, he falls behind those two significantly in terms of potential and no longer provides the Mets with significant value. This is definitely something to keep an eye on moving forward.
It is easy to pick on Cecchini due to his lack of elite physical skills. However, the more time he spends in the Mets' farm system, the more evident his amazing work ethic stands out. Right now, it is visible in his increased power and refinement at the plate. He still needs to improve in many areas, like making hard contact more consistently and smoothing out his defensive kinks.
Cecchini may be a harder prospect to love than most, but he is also someone who is hard to bet against. His future might not be as flashy as those of other prospects, but God knows he will do whatever it takes to get there.