When Neil Walker was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers on August 12, a great deal of possibilities opened up in the Mets’ infield. It allowed the team a better opportunity to mix and match some players, get a good look their in-house infield options for next season, and give opportunities to young players who wouldn’t have otherwise gotten them. But oddly enough, one young player who hasn’t gotten much of an opportunity this season is second baseman Gavin Cecchini.
Cecchini was recalled to the majors on August 17. In the 40 games the Mets have played since then, the former first-round pick has appeared in just 24 of those games, making a meager 13 starts with just 63 plate appearances. Given that the Mets have had nothing to play for in months, this slate of meaningless games would have been a great time to give Cecchini a test run, and it’s curious that the team hasn’t taken advantage of it.
Now, Cecchini has lost much of his luster as a prospect lately, and giving him a trial run isn’t really vital to the organization’s future anymore. But even taking that into account, he’s still a 23-year-old former first-round pick who appeared in the top ten of Mets prospect lists as recently as last offseason. It seems strange the organization wouldn’t at least want to evaluate him at the major league level while they have nothing to lose. There’s no guarantee they’ll get a chance like this again with him.
Instead, they’ve primarily been playing Jose Reyes at second base. And to be fair, Reyes has been playing exceedingly well, with a 130 wRC+ since the start of August, while Cecchini has posted just a 36 wRC+ in the major leagues this season. But Reyes is a known quantity, is on the wrong side of 30, and isn’t even under contract for next season. His production, while great, is relatively meaningless for the Mets, who have punted the season and are building towards next year and beyond.
The team’s goal of the last two months this season has been to find out what they had in-house. But they still have more questions than answers when it comes to Cecchini. They could have found some of those answers in the past month or so, but have deliberately chosen not to. So what gives? Why hasn’t Cecchini been able to see the field?
There’s no clear answer, but the best plausible explanation seems to be that the team wants Reyes back on the team next season in a utility role. And they’ve possibly soured on Cecchini as a prospect so much that they think Reyes rebounding from his awful first half, getting more comfortable at second base, and turning himself into a useful utility player for next season is more important than Cecchini getting playing time at this point.
And that’s not exactly unwarranted or indefensible thinking, either. Cecchini put up an 85 wRC+ in Triple-A this year, his swing has drawn criticism, his defense is questionable, he has looked clearly overmatched at the major league level, and he hasn’t shown much promise at any level since 2016. So it’s easy to understand why the organization might feel the need to look elsewhere for answers and instead build the value of Reyes, a player they probably think is more likely to contribute next year.
That said, however unlikely it is for Cecchini to reach the potential he once had, we’ve seen first-hand this year what consistent playing time can do for a young player. As recently as a month ago, former first-round picks Brandon Nimmo and Kevin Plawecki were both thought to have ambiguous futures and were relative question marks going forward. But in the last month, they’ve shown the ability to hit major league pitching, and have both likely solidified important roles on the 2018 team. There’s no guarantee Cecchini would have seized his opportunity like Nimmo and Plawecki, but the point is, opportunity reveals answers.
Plus, even if Reyes is the more important player going forward, there’s still far less to learn from playing him every day instead of Cecchini. Yes, Reyes has been hot, but we know this isn’t the hitter he actually is now. What he’s doing is impressive, but this is in all likelihood not the new normal for him at age 34. The only thing he’s really doing is driving up his price tag going into the offseason. Any kind of output by Cecchini, however, could show a lot about his strengths and weaknesses, and how close or far away he is to being a major league contributor of any kind.
So while it’s extremely unlikely Cecchini would have turned into any sort of star or even a quality major league player, we still don’t actually know what he could do with consistent big league playing time. And this was the time to find out. With only four games left in the season, the Mets may have missed a great opportunity to evaluate a young talent this month.