With their first pick in the 2012 draft, at #12 overall, the Mets selected Louisiana high school shortstop Gavin Cecchini.
Where most players straight from high school begin their career in the so-called complex leagues in the Gulf Coast League or the Arizona Rookie League, the Mets dropped their GCL affiliate for the 2012 season. That pushed Cecchini and his high school cohort up to the more advanced rookie level in the Appalachian League, where the Kingsport Mets are struggling to a 4-16 start. As far as his personal adjustment to Kingsport, Cecchini claimed to be at home, “It’s the same game. It’s baseball. As long as you play the game hard, and play the game the right way, everything will take care of itself,” he said before a recent game in Johnson City, Tennessee. “Your stats will take care of themselves, wins will take care of themselves, everything.”
K-Mets’ manager Jose Leger thought his first-rounder was off to a fine start, “He’s doing very well, Leger said. “A lot better than expected being such a young kid. He’s already learning the game. You see the progress that he’s made. He didn’t even look overmatched at the beginning, which you would think him being so young, he’d be a little bit overmatched in this league which is a level higher than [kids] usually play at.”
Of course, Cecchini must learn to hit like a Met and take his pitches. “If you get a good pitch to hit, everything will take care of itself: that goes from staying inside the ball, to working the other way, not chasing, not getting out in front. When I get a pitch that I can hit, I’m going to drive it. That’s just the biggest thing, being selectively aggressive. … At first, I wasn’t taking a lot of walks because you know, I was swinging at pitches that are pitchers’ pitches. It’s a pitch that if you see it 10 times, the best will only hit the ball hard a couple of times. I’ve learned from manager Jose Leger, and we had a big meeting, and it wasn’t just for me – it was for a lot of the kids – if it’s 0-0 and you get a pitch on the corner, low and outside, just take it because you have two more. And just try to get a pitch that you can drive and hit hard in the gap somewhere. Get your pitch,” he recounted. “So they’re going to make a mistake, at least one time, and I will make ‘em pay for it.”
The change from high school is “In high school, you can get away with stuff, but now, it’s really part of my game,” he explained. “You take walks. It helps your average and it helps the team. You know, you score runs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going up there and looking for a walk. I’m going up there to hit and that’s what I do,” he finished confidently. As befits a first rounder, confidence is not something Cecchini lacks. Once he starts talking, and gets excited, the words do not flow from his mouth. They tumble in a rushed torrent.
Leger praised his energy and his work at the plate, “He’s a little advanced for his age – like his approach at the plate. He battles every AB.” Sure, he the skipper thought he was too aggressive at times, but saw a power future for him, “There’s something about him that makes you wonder if he’s going to hit for power, and I think he will. I think he’s going to fill up in that body. He’s got some good legs. The way he swings, and the bat speed, and the way he connects with the ball, and the ball kinda jumps a little bit, you realize, “oh, man, once he gets stronger, the ball is going to go further.”
The Mets’ organizational policy is to avoid any major tweaks in the first year of a young player’s career, but Leger pointed to a few areas where reminders can help Cecchini now, “There are some basic things, like staying inside the ball, and being smooth on his load, and using his lower half are just common things that any hitting coach can tell a player. As far as changing his mechanics, we try not to mess with that at this early stage for him.”
Cecchini’s defense abilities at shortstop played a crucial role in the Mets’ draft decision. On this score, his focus is on instincts at short. His definition of instincts is a little different than an evolutionary biologist’s perhaps, “To help your range as a SS, you gotta have good instincts. That’s the first thing: reading the bat off the ball, getting really good jumps. That’ll help you have good range. That’s one thing that I’ve really been working on, is seeing the bat off the ball. Just right when the ball’s hit: boom!” He gestures like he’s chasing a grounder. “Or boom.” He throws his hands out like he’s chasing another in the opposite direction.
As far as rest of his work defensively, well, it’s the same old thing, “It kinda seems like t-ball, but you gotta go back to the basics,” he explained “You gotta see the ball in for sure. What if it takes a bad hop? Then you’re screwed. Just seeing the ball in, bringing it to your chest, and then shuffle, shuffle. And not rushing is a big thing for accurate throws.”
Cecchini, who says he learned from his brother Garin, a Red Sox farmhand, how tough the day-to-day grind of professional baseball, seems to be enjoying himself, just a little.
“I’m having a lot of fun. I love to play the game of baseball. Whenever you can play the game of baseball and get paid to do it on top of that, it’s a blast.”