Shortstop Prospect Gavin Cecchini: Is It Time To Get Excited Yet?

Gavin Cecchini's player card from milb.com. Still just 21 years of age, Cecchini is enjoying a breakout season in Binghamton this year and challenges any player in baseball for longest full given name. 

Mid-season prospect lists are always a joy to read as you can tell a lot about a prospect guru's methodology (how much does a small sample size influence rankings? What about recent draftees? How much do comparable players move on a list? What can that tell us about that guru's biases? I'm getting carried away here...). John Sickels, my go-to for everything minor leagues, included Gavin Cecchini in his mid-season top 75.

Yes, Gavin Cecchini. Also known as the "Could have been Lucas Giolito" pick. Or the "Could have been Corey Seager" pick. Or the "Could have been Michael Wacha" pick. You get the idea. Cecchini has been the "guy we got instead of _____" prospect pretty much ever since he was drafted. (The fact that hind sighting drafts is a pointless exercise and there were plenty of reasons to avoid many of the draftees who are now studs is a topic for another article). Anyway, here is what Sickels has to say about the streaking Cecchini:

Gavin Cecchini's ranking and comment in John Sickels' mid-season top 75 prospects update which you can read here.

The bat is certainly breaking out in Double-A. That is also some really nice company there 65-70. Manaea and Beede are former draft darlings and Frazier is one of the toolsier outfield prospects in baseball.

The Breakout:

2015: .298/.362/.427/.789 with 6 homers, 37 RBI and 47 runs scored (he typically leads off for Binghamton). He has also stolen two bases (four CS), and hit two triples and 18 doubles. The stat that jumps out the most to me is 30 walks vs. just 35 strikeouts. That is some good contact. That is a strikeout just under once every ten at bats which would put him among the lead leaders in the major leagues if he did that at the senior circuit. His .789 OPS for a shortstop would rank him 4th out of all qualified major league SSs (trailing just Troy Tulowitzki, Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Crawford).

While Cecchini has done much of this damage with a higher-than-average BABIP, he's also had a couple periods of statistical adjustment already and is hitting line drives at a much higher rate than he did in past seasons. This means that while some of his performance at the plate could be attributed to luck, his contact rate and line drive rate also tells me he has made an adjustment and this is "for real".

The Defense:

This is where I get confused. Both Sickels and Keith Law (who said Cecchini would rank around 100-120 if he were to extend his mid-season list that far) speak highly of his defense. Baseball America has said the same thing. My experience watching Cecchini's in-game defense is limited but I have two pieces of evidence to add to the conversation:

1.) I saw him at spring training and it seemed like he had gotten bigger (his player card has him at 6'2 200 lbs which is big for a shortstop). He did batting drills with Cesar Puello and they looked about the same size. Puello is a big guy, for the record. Big shortstops can be good defenders--Andrelton Simmons is about 6'2" and about 200 pounds--but Cecchini was already a defender who would get by on athleticism and IQ over raw skills. He has always been that sort of player. Adding size is not going to do him any favors and watching him next to smooth shortstops like Amed Rosario and Luis Guillorme in St. Lucie made me believe his days as a shortstop might be numbered.

2.) His Range Factor has plummeted while his error rate has spiked. Both of these metrics are flawed. You can be the best defender in baseball and make more errors than your peers. That comes with the territory of getting to more balls and making more plays. Similarly, range factor merely tells us how many putouts are made per inning or game and nothing of defensive skill (so a team with mostly fly ball pitchers and very good infield defense is going to have bad range factors for its infielders because of fewer opportunities. It says little of skill). However, we do not have access to advanced metrics to see how many out of zone plays Cecchini is making and what his UZR or range data can tell us. However, I do worry that the error total has risen while he has made fewer plays. Fellow Atlanta resident and physics graduate over at AstroMets provides us with some great GIFs of minor league play (definitely check out the site). You can see some of Cecchini's errors here. He is making a lot of them and many are plays a guy with a high baseball IQ would not attempt. Which is odd for Cecchini who has always been known as a cerebral player.

I don't know what to make of Cecchini's defense. His arm gets a good grade from most and he certainly has an idea what he is doing in the field. My take on it is that if he can adjust to the added mass on his frame and limit his errors, he will be a fine shortstop. Maybe not elite and maybe not even as good as Ruben Tejada, but then again league average defense with his OBP/wRC+ ability as a shortstop would put him in the top few best shortstops in all of baseball. His bat gives him the opportunity to be one of the betters shortstops in baseball even if the defense is just "meh".

The question with Cecchini is twofold: Can he hit like this in the big leagues and can he maintain at least average defense?

The answers to those two questions above are unknown but will determine what player Gavin Cecchini becomes. I think it is safe to say that he is certainly a major leaguer of some kind. His floor is a utility player with multi-position capability. That's valuable. However, if this breakout is for real and not just a prolonged hot streak, Cecchini has the chance to be the answer at shortstop for this team for years to come. He has over 300 plate appearances at Double-A which leads me to believe his time to Flushing is under a year at this point and possibly sooner.

I just don't know whether or not I can expect Cecchini to be anything other than another disappointing shortstoption for the major league club. In some ways he has been grossly mistreated by the portion of the fan base who follows the minors (I am guilty of this as well) mainly because he isn't Lucas Giolito. Which is not his fault. Even before this season, Cecchini had a career OBP well over .300, played sparkling defense in Brooklyn, and played at every league well under the age of his peers. I am not sure why we never gave him credit for that and I am not sure why we are still not (again I'm still guilty here) getting excited about him when he has very much broken out in a tough league in which he's three and a half years younger than the average player.

Still, though, Cecchini was drafted to be our Francisco Lindor or our Addison Russell. Perhaps that high standard is unfair but a team like the Mets needs an elite shortstop and you expect that when you use the #12 pick on him in the draft. With the way the team is built, that position and the glove that occupies it is so vital to the team's success that anything less than outstanding will stick out like a sore thumb. Ruben Tejada has been fantastic this year and he gets more abuse from the fan than any player I have seen since Luis Castillo. Is Gavin Cecchini really the guy to step in be the definitive shortstop for years to come? Not just a player who can pick it at shortstop but bring value to the plate as well? I don't know. That's why I'm not excited yet. Maybe I should be. The bar for shortstop in baseball really is not high.

Are you excited about Gavin Cecchini? Sound off in the comments. If you want a question addressed, Tweet at me here and I will answer your question in an article.



Michael S. said...

I'm definitely excited. He hits, has moderate power, gets on base, and doesn't K. Adding Gavin, Nimmo, and Conforto will give this team a shot in the arm next year.

Stephen Guilbert said...

What do you think about his defense? Admittedly, I just have not seen enough to have an un-biased and complete take on it.

Michael S. said...

From his drafting it was supposed to be solid but it seems he's not lived up to it. I think part of it has been due to his bulking up. Once he's gotten accustomed to his 'new body' and put work in he'll be okay. No gold gloves but definitely solid enough.

I really see Nimmo-Cecchini-Conforto as our future 1-2-3 in the lineup based on each player's tools and production to this point. Not only will that help the offense and build a foundation for the future, it'll be another feather in Sandy's cap.

Stephen Guilbert said...

I'm hoping he makes that adjustment as well.

Funny thing is...Ruben Tejada is actually having a nice season. Extrapolated over a full season he's just shy of 3.0 WAR. That's actually really good.

Fans will never ever except Ruben Tejada but he actually is a solid player.

Michael S. said...

I had high hopes for Tejada when he first came up. Depending on how things shake out (who knows who gets traded) he could still wind up somewhere in the infield. If not, he can be a valuable bench player.

Stephen Guilbert said...

He's still probably not the answer at shortstop for this team I just get angry at people (looking at you, Reese) who complain about him. He has the second highest WAR/game of any batter on the team except Granderson. Think about that for a second. Yea, part of that is the Mets batters are awful but part is Ruben has been a lot better than people are giving him credit for.

Christopher Soto said...

Just got back from tonight's game....

In regards to Cecchini's defense....

His range is solid, his hands are smooth, and his feet are quick. I agree with the experts opinions that he's going to be an above average defender.


He IS dealing with a case of the throwing yips right now. He committed two throwing errors tonight; one via starting the double play (Just spiked the throw) and trying to get the advancing runner from 2nd to 3rd on a ground ball in front of him. (Tried to throw it around the runner instead of just going to 1B for the out).

Stephen Guilbert said...

Thanks for the update, Chris. Is his arm STRENGTH still plus? I remember that being a calling card back when he was a teenager. As long as the strength is still there and it really just is the yips (I believe over half of his errors have been of the throwing variety) and what you say about his range/hands/footwork, I can't help but get excited about him.

Thomas Brennan said...

I like Michael S am excited about Gavin. The bat is better than I thought.

I'd switch him to DH for a while, or to 2B, and give him a change of defensive scenery for the short term. He probably needs a mental break to stop the errors.

Christopher Soto said...

Yes plus arm strength on the grading scale, but amongst other SS prospect it's average to slightly above average.

He'll make all the normal plays a SS should make but he doesn't have the premium arm that andrelton Simmons has.

Stephen Guilbert said...

But could we assume at least 0 DRS over the course of a season? And at least 0.0 UZR or better? That's all we need as long as he hits something close to 100 wRC+

League average defensively and league average offensively for a shortstop in today's game gets you something like a 3-4 WAR player. We haven't had that at short since Reyes left.

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