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John asks:

Is Gavin Cecchini on the verge of a make or break year as a prospect? He had a solid average in a pitcher friendly NY Penn League, but his power numbers are really lacking.  A lot of reports I read are down on him, and was just wondering your take Toby.  Thanks.

No, 2014 is not a make or break year for Cecchini, who will make his full-season debut in 2014. Barring a Spring Training injury, he will be playing shortstop for Savannah as a 20-years-old on Opening Day, Thursday, April 3, 2014. He will be young for the South Atlantic League. Again, he will be 20 years old in 2014.

Yeah, Cecchini does not hit for much power, that's not what his game is about.

Instead, his game is about playing a well-rounded shortstop. He's at best an average runner, but he has lithe actions quick feet around the bag. His hands work well. He has enough arm to play short. So, while he's not going to blow anyone away running from home to third like, say Jose Reyes, the Mets expect him to play short, and do so well.

As Mets VP of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Paul DePodesta told me in March, "I think he’s going to be a solid average defender at shortstop. I don’t think we have any question that he’s going to stay at the position… We think he’s going to a very steady defender. It’s probably not going to be Omar Vizquel, it’s not going to be flash, but he’s going to be a very solid defender."

For the sake of argument, lets say that Cecchini does become average to a little better at short, say zero through plus five runs above average defensively. Last year, by UZR, the list of guys in this profile, who played at least 700 games at short (half a season), included Ian Desmond, Elvis Andrus, Stephen Drew, Brandon Crawford, Pedro Florimon, Jhonny Peralta, Brendan Ryan and Jean Segura. (Note: Segura's UZR/150 of -1.1 was the only one here who was negative, but it's close enough to average that I think he can be safely included in this group and he was above average by Total Zone, DRS and +/-.)  This selection of eight guys comprises seven starting shortstops - a quarter of Major League Baseball, and Ryan, who played mostly for the Mariners in 2013.

Here is this octet of players ranked by fWAR:

Desmond (5)

Peralta (3.6)

Drew (3.4)

Segura (3.4)

Andrus (2.8)

Crawford (2.2)

Florimon (1.3)

Ryan (-0.6)

And what do we have here? A wide range of value from replacement level through qualifying offer-level (Drew) and beyond. Even while playing averagish defense at short, there is a line at which teams will stop running a player who is hapless with bat out onto the field. Ryan, who hit .192/.24/.265 in 87 games with the Mariners is living proof. Moving up the chart, Florimon was above replacement level, barely, thanks to a .221/.281/.330 line for the Twins. Ok, that's not really useful to a winning baseball team.

Instead, it's Crawford (.248/.311/.363) and Andrus (.271/.328/.331) who establish the bottom bound of useful when combining averagish to slightly above average defense at short with enough offense to get above 2 WAR. For what it's worth, Crawford hit nine homeruns and Andrus stole 42 bases.

Cecchini's glove should be an important part of his overall value, but the hitting matters too, always.

In 2013, Cecchini hit .273/.319/.314 with a 6.6% walk rate and a 14.2% strikeout rate in the New York Penn League as a 19-year-old. At the plate, I like the way Cecchini's hands work, but he'll need to become stronger in the coming years. I thought he was too pre-loaded in 2012, and was starting to use his lower half better in 2013. And yes, power will always be the weakest of his traditional tools.

On our eight-player list of average to slightly above defensive shortstops, there's only one other guy who was drafted out of high school: Ian Desmond. He played in Savannah as a 19-year-old for the Washington Nationals and hit an imposing .247/.291/.334 with 13 walks, 60 strikeouts and 16 extra-base hits. For some reason, the Nationals promoted him to advanced-A to finish the season, and had him begin his age-20 season in double-A. It's all worked out in the end, but his path through the system was certainly faster than Cecchini's will be despite unimpressive statistical markers. Desmond, of course is 2-3 inches taller than Cecchini and stronger.

Peralta played in the South Atlantic League at age 18 in 2000 and hit .241/.352/.309 for Columbus.

There's nothing make or break about Cecchini's 2014, as long as he shows the tools to play short. His glove will give him a chance to get to the big leagues, and it's his bat that will determine what time of value he provides when he gets there. Wishy-washy? Sure, but that's the thing about a guy who has not played a day in a full-season league.

For our Mets Minor League Report on Cecchini, click here.

Tags: Mailbag, Gavin Cecchini, Analysis , Toby Hyde
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