There was a little bit of mild concern a couple days ago when Mets second baseman Gavin Cecchini hadn’t shown up to camp yet despite the fact that to earn a spot on the Major League team at some point this year, he’s really going to have to earn it. These mild concerns were eased yesterday when Cecchini was seen at Major League camp with a beard he grew during the offseason.
But according to Kristie Ackert of the NY Daily News, facial hair wasn’t the only thing Cecchini was working on this offseason, as reports have indicated that Cecchini has revamped his swing, which admittedly looked ugly in his brief stint in the Majors last year. Matt Ehalt of The Record also reported that he had heard a good review of Cecchini, as well as fellow youngster Dominic Smith. While Cecchini is still yet to prove himself at the Major League level, these positive reports are good signs of hope early in Spring Training.
The reality of the situation is that 2018 will be a huge year for Cecchini. He hasn’t proven that he’s a Major Leaguer, but he also hasn’t proven that he’s a bust yet. He hit poorly in Triple-A and the Majors last year, which was disappointing to see after two straight strong offensive seasons in Double-A and Triple-A. We’ve seen glimpses of the player he can be in the minor leagues, and 2018 could potentially be the year where he proves that 2017 was just a small bump in the road to becoming a quality Major League player for the Mets.
He seems to have his defense figured out, more or less, as he adjusted well to playing second base last year after he had played shortstop for pretty much his entire life. He’s definitely solid enough there that he can play second base in the Majors.
He will most likely start this year in Triple-A, where hopefully he can utilize his theoretically “revamped” swing to return to the level of offense he produced in 2016. If (or, knowing the Mets, I should probably say “when”) an infielder gets hurt, Cecchini’s likely the first one up from the minors, unless defensive wizard Luis Guillorme has an offensive outburst in the hitter’s haven Cashman Field. I say this because Matt Reynolds is no longer with the team, and while Ty Kelly and Phillip Evans are also options, neither of them are on the 40-man roster, and Cecchini is. Cecchini is also a former first-round pick and still 24 years old, and players of that status naturally tend to get chances.
Regardless of injuries in the Majors, however, this could be a make-or-break year for Cecchini. Judging by the lack of playing time he received down the stretch last year even when the Mets were completely out of it, they don’t seem to think that highly of him anymore. Hitting a home run off Clayton Kershaw earned him a demotion to Triple-A, and getting three hits in a game off R.A. Dickey and the Braves earned him a comfortable spot on the bench. That pretty much sums up the Mets’ opinion of him, although former manager Terry Collins likely had something to do with that.
If he doesn’t hit well or make any progress in Triple-A, he could find his 40-man roster spot in jeopardy. But on the opposite side of the spectrum, if he does hit well, and even more so if he hits well in the Majors, he could find himself in the mix for the Mets’ starting second base job since the team doesn’t currently have a true second baseman. Cecchini’s career could still go in so many different directions, and the path he takes will largely hinge on how he performs this year.
Personally, my opinion of Cecchini is high. I’ve loved going to 51’s games the past couple years while watching him play and talking to him before games and I really like his contact-oriented approach at the plate and believe he possesses strong gap power as well. While his swing was a little stiff and needs to smoothen out a bit, it should be noted that this is something he probably worked on in the offseason. Cecchini is as smart as they come as far as baseball players go and he knows where he stands in terms of his role on this team. I have no doubt that he is aware of his flaws and has been working tirelessly to fix them.
All this being said, I believe Cecchini will be one of the more interesting players to watch this spring as guys compete for jobs. At the very least, it will be interesting to see what (if any) improvements he’s made on his swing. If he has a strong spring, there’s a slim chance he could make the Opening Day roster. But otherwise, he just has to go down to Las Vegas and hit.
When Kevin Plawecki struggled in early 2017, he was demoted and Terry Collins told him to “go hit.” Plawecki hit really well down in Vegas, then came back to the Majors and looked like a completely different player, finally putting everything together in the second half of the season. Cecchini needs to go down and do the same thing because he wasn’t a first-round pick for no reason. He didn’t win the 2015 Eastern League Rookie of the Year for no reason. He didn’t finish third in the 2016 Triple-A batting title race for no reason. He’s still young and has the talent to be a contributor, and this is the perfect year for him to prove all his doubters wrong.
For now, all we can do is wait anxiously for the Mets’ first Spring Training game on Friday. As someone fighting for a job, Cecchini should get his fair share of playing time, and hopefully, some of these improvements that have been reported early in camp will be seen once he starts facing pitchers in games.