For years, the Mets’ 2012 first-round pick, shortstop Gavin Cecchini, has been the rare rotten fruit of the Mets’ farm system, not least because of the players they passed on to take him. While Michael Wacha, Lucas Giolito, and Corey Seager rocketed up the prospect and major league ladder (Seager and Giolito now rank #1 and #2 on Baseball America’s prospect rankings, Wacha pitched in the World Series as a rookie), Cecchini struggled in the low minors. He hit .247 between Low- and High-A in 2014, his third straight mediocre season. He fell to the Mets’ 10th best prospect, if that.
But Cecchini has experienced a renaissance in Double-A this year, hitting .317/.377/.442 through 485 plate appearances. And he was on fire on in July, earning Player of the Month honors after leading the Eastern League with a .387 batting average and all full-season shortstops with a .453 on-base percentage.
Jumping to conclusions about a prospect after one season can be dangerous—anyone remember Cesar Puello?— but there’s much in Cecchini’s line to suggest that he’s turned the corner. The average is not an aberration. Cecchini is simply making far more contact, whiffing far less often (55) this season as he did last season (87) in about the same number of at-bats. And since last August, when the shortstop posted an .862 OPS and drew 21 free passes, Cecchini’s walk rate is 10 percent. The MLB average is 7.5 percent. The MLB average for shortstops is 5.9 percent, a stat weighed down by the Mets’ own free-swinging pair.
Exceptional walk and strikeout rates should allow Cecchini’s on-base ability to translate to the majors. That’s exceptionally valuable at a position where no everyday player has an on-base percentage north of .350. He’s no Cal Ripken, or even Flores, but scouts originally projected him to develop gap and maybe 10-15 home run power. His seven home runs and 23 doubles this season suggest he’s well on his way.
Cecchini’s bat sets him apart from Tejada. What sets him apart from Flores is his glove; the man can actually play shortstop. To what degree, however, remains a mystery, one that should determine his ultimate value to the Mets.
Defense dictated Cecchini’s draft spot as a high schooler. As a teenager, Cecchini was a natural shortstop: agile with an above-average arm and soft hands that might just wear a Gold Glove one day. On the 20-80 scouting scale, ESPN.com’s Keith Law pegged him as a 55 for speed, 60 for range, and 65 for arm.
But three years have packed 15 to 20 pounds onto Cecchini’s once-wiry frame and sapped him of his speed. While no one doubts the athleticism, by many accounts he hasn’t made the mechanical adjustments his position demands. Scouting him in High-A last season, Baseball Prospectus’s Jeff Moore called the infielder "robotic" and wrote "Cecchini is currently out of position as a shortstop." Amazin’ Avenue’s Jeff Paternostro doesn’t think much of his throwing arm, saying:
It's just not strong enough to make all the throws you need to make as a shortstop, and when Cecchini has to reach back for some extra oomph on a close play, he gets a little scattershot.
Along with his offensive reorientation, Cecchini seems to have improved a bit defensively as well. Days before the deadline, after watching Cecchini play a game against the Trenton Thunder, Law doubled down on his projection of above-average glovesman. Cecchini’s 25 errors, mostly throwing, remain a problem, but fielding percentage is a hazardous barometer of a prospect’s defense. Andrelton Simmons, whose glovecraft draws comparisons to only that of The Wizard, muffed 28 times in his only full minor league season.
Either way, Cecchini should be at minimum an average defender. Five major league shortstops currently produce positive value at both sides of the ball, per Fangraphs: Troy Tulowitzki, Xander Bogaerts, Brad Miller, and both the NL’s All-Star representatives this season—Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Crawford. A well-rounded shortstop can be greater than the sum of his parts.
If Cecchini continues on this pace, he could pull into Queens as soon as May or June of 2016, the latest in a long-awaited line of tricked-out youngsters ready to replace a rusting fleet. Daniel Murphy is a free agent at year’s end. David Wright’s health is now an eternal question mark. Wilmer Flores arrived two years ago, next bring on Cecchini and Dilson Herrera. Matt Reynolds should have value off the bench and Amed Rosario, whom scouts hype regularly, may not be too far behind. That’s not to mention the outfield, where Michael Conforto may soon be joined by Brandon Nimmo. The 2011 first-round pick is now hitting .321 in Triple-A.