It’s not often can a first round pick be called underrated. But among fans, prospect-lovers, and high-profile analysts, the verdict seems to be out on shortstop Gavin Cecchini. The 21-year-old was regularly absent from Mets top prospects rankings this offseason, and most people seem unimpressed with his high-floor, low-ceiling combination. However, after examining Gavin’s 2014 statistics both traditionally and sabermetrically, along with recent scouting reports, I would not be surprised if Cecchini develops into an above-average major league starting shortstop just a couple years down the road.
Credit Cecchini’s 2013 season for burying his prospect stock. Across 51 games with the Low-A Brooklyn Cyclones, Cecchini lacked any power and exhibited incredibly poor plate discipline. He finished the year having totaled a pathetic eight extra-base hits (all doubles), posted an abysmal .041 ISO, and struck out in nearly 15% of at-bats.
Though it went largely unnoticed, Cecchini drastically improved in a multitude of categories the following year. His batting average actually dropped twenty points to .247, but don’t let that mark fool you; he got remarkably stronger and significantly improved his approach at the plate
A year after hitting no home runs and banging only a few extra-base-hits, Cecchini cleared the wall eight times, barreled 27 doubles, and legged out five triples in 2014, all career-highs by wide margins. Furthermore, he nearly halved his K/BB ratio and did much of this damage calling the cavernous Grayson stadium his home.
Lastly, BABIP, a great explanation for improved numbers, also gives a favorable review of Cecchini’s 2014 season. Across two levels in 2014, Cecchini batted only .279 on balls in play, 30 points lower than his 2013 figure. Considering his improved power numbers, it is very likely that the low BABIP reveals bad luck and not weak contact. Maybe luck will join Cecchini’s side during the 2015 season, which would result in an even better season against the advanced pitching of the high minors.
Considering the various uncontrollable factors that influence minor league stats, we must examine scouting reports on Cecchini’s raw tools if we want to best analyze his performance and major league future.
According to Baseball America, Cecchini has a pure swing that should allow him to develop into an above-average hitter with fringe-average power. His speed is merely average, but a plus baseball IQ should allow him to swipe 15 bags over the course of a full season. Most importantly, Cecchini should not only be able to stick at shortstop, but his good range, strong arm, and quick hands will allow him to be an above-average defender at maturity. Furthermore, scouts rave about his baseball instincts and competitiveness, which will enable the prospect to maximize his potential and likely elevate his game above what his raw tools might suggest.
With Phillip Evans moving to St. Lucie, Cecchini should begin this season at Double-A Binghamton as the team’s starting shortstop. Amed Rosario and Milton Ramos stole the shortstop spotlight in this offseason prospect rankings, so the pressure is on Cecchini to continue his development and stay relevant within the Mets organization.
An advanced plate approach, improving power, and stellar baseball awareness make it reasonable to imagine Cecchini batting around .270, slugging 10-15 home runs, and playing solid defense in the bottom third of the Mets’ lineup in two years time.
Two years may seem long to wait for such middling production, but in the new offensively-starved MLB, those numbers would make Cecchini well worth his first round selection. In fact, had Cecchini been a major leaguer last season, his .707 OPS would have ranked seventh among national league shortstops. Mets shortstops averaged a .629 OPS in 2014.
I’m not trying to argue that Cecchini will ever hit like Cal Ripken or field the position like Ozzie Smith. But if you can get past the prospect fatigue, therein lies a player that has no glaring weakness and does all the little things right.
I’m a fan of the Wilmer Flores experiment and a big supporter of toolsy prospects Amed Rosario and Milton Ramos. Still, among this extremely talented group, Cecchini offers the most balanced skill set and has the ability to contribute in the near future.
Watch out, by midseason 2016, Gavin Cecchini could emerge as the first true long-term replacement for Jose Reyes.