Again: Gavin Cecchini, Draft Strategy, Coveting Other Team’s Players

Yesterday, I put up a link to Baseball America, who had ranking Mets SS Gavin Cecchini #12 the #12 prospect in the Appalachian League.  The comment section was largely, but not exclusively, negative about Cecchini. Maybe it’s because the Mets are 71-84, and headed for their fourth straight losing season and sixth straight out of the playoffs and therefore, everything the Mets do is wrong.  Apparently, there is no escaping that climate of complaining.

Cecchini
Cecchini is a gifted defensive shortstop, who, as an 18-year old, hit .246/.311/.330 in 53 games in the Appalachian League which as a whole averaged .254/.329/.382.  He showed some strike zone control, with a 2.4 K/BB ratio (43 K/18 BB) and a strikeout rate of 19% and a walk rate of 8%. Oh, and he played August while recovering from a broken finger. He was young for his league.

I liked Cecchini’s swing more than I was expecting too, but he will need to add strength to his wiry frame. Defensively, his hands were fine for short. However, I left concerned about his range. The game I saw, he did not produce an average running time to first. It’s hard to play an average shortstop without average to plus speed. In my opinion, it is nearly impossible to be a plus shortstop without plus speed. In Cecchini’s defense, he was running on a wet track, and I saw him for one game and one BP/infield session only.

If he can play an average Major League shortstop, he will have value, as I discussed in June:

Using data from the last three complete seasons (2009-2011), there are exactly 14 players who have a positive UZR/150, that is, by the metric, are average or better shortstops. Of those, only nine are better than five runs above average per 150 games. That’s it. There are literally, fewer than 10 guys in baseball who are five runs above average annually at shortstop.

Of this group, of average or better defensive SS, exactly three are average or better offensively as measured by wRC+ (where 100 is league average).

Emphasis added this time.

Multiple scouts from other teams, for whom Cecchini was not an option, either because they picked too high in the first round, or too low, told me they like Cecchini as a player and he represented fine value for the Mets at #12.

 

Draft Strategy
Major League teams should not draft for need in the first round. Read it, repeat it and then process it. Major League teams should not draft for need in the first round. Major League teams should not draft for need in the first round.

Why not?

1. The failure rate on prospects outside the top few picks is too high. There is no guarantee that selecting a player in the 2012 draft for an organizational need in 2012 will ever be able to fill that organizational need.
2. Draft picks need time to develop.
3. Organization needs change. Organizational needs in 2016/2017, when a high school player from the 2012 draft could reasonably be expected to be fitting into the big leagues will be different from 2012. Four years is a long time in baseball. 

Teams, including the Mets should draft the best player available in the first round. Now, to some degree, this strategy has been altered by the new collective bargaining agreement with its move towards a draft spending cap for each team. A team must balance taking and paying for the best player at any given point, versus maximizing the number of good prospects to be acquired later against the cap.

 

The Fan Complaint
Yesterday’s arguments in the comments section produced three main types of complaints about Cecchini.

There were: he arguments included:

  • He was a bad pick because the 2012 Mets needed power.
  • He was a bad pick because he has no upside and the Mets have a shortstop now – Ruben Tejada
  • The Mets should have drafted OF Courtney Hawkins

The first two are simply wrong. Say it with me again: Major League teams should not draft for need in the first round.
Again, Cecchini will not be a big leaguer for four more years. By that time, Tejada will be arbitration eligible. He might be a star, he might be a solid contributor, he might be injured. The advantage of drafting up the middle players is that they can move down the defensive spectrum to “easier” positions.

Hawkins is a big, strong outfielder destined for a corner spot, who the White Sox picked at #13, right behind the Mets.  The White Sox were aggressive with Hawkins this year, starting him off in the Appalachian League before promoting him to Kannapolis in the South Atlantic League for two weeks and then up to Winston-Salem for the playoffs. Overall, as an 18-year old, he hit .284/.324/.480 with eight homers, and 56 K/11 BB for a K/BB of 5.1. In his 249 PA, he walked in 4.4% of his plate appearances, and fanned in 22%.

The most recent scouting report on Hawkins comes from Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks who saw him recently at instructional league in Arizona:

Thicker body than I expected; Kevin Mitchell thighs; obvious athlete; multiple 4.25 times to first; strength is just as obvious as athleticism; ball screams off bat when contact is made; top-heavy swing; bat speed generated by tremendous raw strength; lacks impressive bat control; fooled by off-speed stuff; front foot contact; left field profile for me; …  power is only loud tool, but it has the potential to be very loud; doesn’t have star-level projection; if power translates, has first-division potential, but role 5 player more realistic; how long does present athleticism keep profile from being worse?; how big does the body get?; major league strength, but does he have a major league swing?; I need to see a lot more, but I was expecting to see a more electric profile and a little less body.

Parks’ current projection on Courtney Hawkins, the apple of some commenter’s eye, is as an average left-fielder. Which do you think has more value, an average shortstop or average corner outfielder?

I was on record before the draft suggesting that the Mets should take the risk on Harvard-Westlake RHP Lucas Giolito. He was a risky pick, because he was looking at likely Tommy John surgery, and was asking for a big bonus. Sure enough, in August, the Nationals, who paid him nearly $3 million and built their entire draft around meeting his bonus demands as eight of the team’s next nine picks signed below allocation so the team could afford Giolito’s bonus. I understand the Mets’ hesitation here.

 

Finally
Opinions are good. I am glad that fans have read enough about the minors here and elsewhere that they have developed strong opinions about players they have never seen (although a little humility would seem sensible). However, the only thing I am certain about when it comes to writing about baseball is uncertainty, especially when writing about prospects.

If Hawkins or Cecchini or Giolito become All-Stars, well great for them and their team. The fact that one does and one does not, would not make any an awful or a terrible pick three months after the draft.*

(*Note, I added the final six words in an afternoon revision for clarity.)

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