3. Gavin Cecchini, SS
Height: 6'2", Weight: 200 lbs
Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft
2015: Double-A Binghamton: 485 PA, .317/.377/.442; 8.7% walk rate, 11.3% strikeout rate
Gavin Cecchini had a breakout season at the plate in 2015. He maintained his strong strikeout and walk numbers from 2014, but the ball starting dropping a bit more for him last year and it landed him the Eastern League's Rookie of the Year, a quirky award but clearly an indication that he was one of the best players in the league. And that he was, finishing in the top five among qualified Eastern League hitters in batting average and on-base percentage while being one of the youngest hitters in the league. Of course, if you loosen up the restrictions on the plate appearance requirements, things become a little less impressive because most players that young and good do not stay in that league long enough to qualify for batting titles.
Cecchini's success as a hitter last year was largely due to his ability to make contact. He rarely strikes out, thanks to tremendous hand-eye coordination, but he was able to lower his strikeout rate in 2015 even further thanks to a new, shorter swing that has very little wasted movement. He eliminated a leg kick and kept his hands low and loaded which made his swing compact and short to the ball, leading to an increase in contact. It's not always great contact, and I'm not sure he'll ever be a 10-homer guy in the majors, but I could see him hitting upwards of .270 once he settles in. And it wouldn't be an empty .270 because he has a good eye at the plate and is able to wait for his pitch—he is not a free swinger—so there will be some on-base there. I like the bat and think it will play in the majors.
Things get dicier when we look at his defense. Cecchini is not a plus defender at shortstop, and there is a real question about whether or not he can stick there long term. In his write-up of Cecchini back when he was drafted, Alex Nelson listed six things to look for when assessing whether or not a player can stick at short: size, hands, actions, footwork, arm, and speed. Cecchini still has ideal size for a shortstop—he hasn't put on too much weight since he was drafted—but he has lost a step and is now a below average runner. His arm is a question mark at this point, and it got exposed often last year because of poor footwork at times and incorrect instincts, such as sitting back on balls he should charge. His hands were exposed at times as well—fumbling routine grounders hit right at him—and this is an issue that has followed him since Savannah. We explained it away as him rushing things and that it could be worked out with increased reps, but that hasn't happened yet. He is not a disaster at short, but when you add it all up the profile there is extremely fringy.
Cecchini has his fans, one of which is Keith Law, who has expressed his enthusiasm for Cecchini in several of his chats this year. Law's optimism on Cecchini's ability to stick at short is encouraging but doesn't change the concerns listed above. Obviously, if he can't stick at short and has to move to second, it will put more pressure on the bat. If he's able to improve and stay at short, it's an exciting profile.
I expect Cecchini to begin the year in Triple-A Las Vegas, where he should get as many games as possible at shortstop. The Mets don't have an immediate need at short—they have Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada after Asdrubal Cabrera—so I expect Cecchini to spend the majority of the season in Vegas. I would say his major league ETA is somewhere in the middle of 2017 but wouldn't be surprised if several injuries force him to the majors in 2016.