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SoxProspects News

June 29, 2011 at 3:32 PM

The Ladder: 6.29.11

3B Garin Cecchini

The Line: 34 plate appearances, .179/.343/.250, 4 strikeouts, 6 walks

The View: In his first season of professional baseball, the highly-talented Cecchini has looked like many young hitters adjusting to an elevated level of competition in the early going. Much of the initial focus for him will be on beginning to polish his raw tools and develop a feel for the strike zone. Possessing a fluid and sweet swing from the left-side of the plate, he shows the ability to produce solid backspin in his batting practice sessions and displays plus batspeed. Cecchini also has solid lower body mechanics and uses his hips well to create torque when driving the head of the bat through the hitting zone. The raw power is there for him to develop solid-average-to-better power as he physically matures and begins to fill out his frame in the coming seasons. The key early need for him to begin tapping into his offensive potential lies with the development of his approach and improvement with picking up the spin of the baseball out of opposing pitchers’ hands more quickly.

In the early season so far, Cecchini has been jumpy and fidgety in the box, backing out against breaking balls and lunging at fastballs. Not overly relaxed, and looking hyperactive during at-bats at times, the game has been moving quickly for him, and the first adjustment he needs to make is to slow things down. It is not uncommon for young players beginning their careers coming out of extended spring training to be eager to impress and get out of the gate fast. Cecchini has fallen into this category in his first eight games, similar to Portland third baseman Will Middlebrooks at the start of his career with Lowell. As Cecchini begins to settle in and relax, I expect his raw skills to start showing. While he will most likely be streaky during his early career, his production should begin to ramp up for him as the season gets going and his level of comfort grows. With more of a relaxed nature in the box, his weight will stay back and that will allow him to drive the ball. Less flinching against breaking balls will be a good sign that he is picking up the spin of the ball better. Cecchini’s time with Lowell this summer is, in essence, a professional break-in period – time to gain valuable experience heading into full-season baseball next season while working to bring improvements and changes from his practice sessions into game action.

RHP Alex Wilson

The Line: 79.2 innings, 65 hits, 72 strikeouts, 30 walks, 6 home runs allowed

The View: Breezing through the low minors after being drafted by the Red Sox organization in 2009, Wilson experienced a bump in the road upon being promoted to Double-A in the middle of the 2010 season. He was often hit hard, leaving his 91-93 MPH four-seam fastball in the middle of the plate and elevating it frequently, and was much more of a thrower than a pitcher in his first taste of the upper minors. It was clear he needed to sharpen his fastball command and learn how to work both sides of the plate with it to adjust to more advanced Eastern League hitters. This season, things have considerably turned around for Wilson, due largely to the sharpening of his feel for his fastball, along with the understanding that he needed to spot the pitch better. With the ability to work in the mid-90s when he reaches back, he has also learned to pick his spots to increase his velocity and not burn himself out early trying to live in those upper reaches. His delivery still has some max effort in it and can wear on him as he gets deeper into outings, but so far, he has done a much better job this year of pacing himself and focusing on executing his fastball, not lighting up the radar gun.

Wilson’s key secondary offering is his solid-average-to-better 81-84 MPH slider that shows hard bite out of the strike zone. When on, it can be a devastating out pitch, with right-handed hitters bailing towards third base and waving over the top of it. While his slider has looked the same, Wilson has done a much better job setting up the pitch via his improved fastball command and dedication to establishing his heater lower in the strike zone this season. If he can consistently throw his breaking ball in the upper reaches of its velocity, he will have a true plus pitch at his disposal. Wilson also has been trying to feature his changeup in his sequences this season, and recently has been throwing it more frequently in outings, but the pitch currently is below-average. With Wilson at 24 years of age and entering the first stages of becoming a finished product, the offering has fringe-average potential and does not project to be an impact pitch for him. With two plus-potential pitches for him to attack hitters with, Wilson looks to be fulfilling his projection as a relief arm at the major league level and can round into one that can work in high-leverage, late-inning situations as he gains experience down the road.

Trending Up

Returning to Double-A to start the 2011 season, right-handed starter Stephen Fife has fared much better in the Eastern League during the first half of the season. Especially sharp in his last 10 starts, Fife has noticeably improved on spotting his 88-91 MPH fastball down in the zone and on the corners early in counts. The pitch has some sink and downward finish, and when he is working in this portion of the strike zone, opposing hitters tend to pound the ball into the ground and produce weak contact. Able to occasionally dial up his fastball to 93 MPH, Fife has done a much better job mixing in attempts to elevate past hitters, while working ahead in more counts has helped him not be forced into coming into the middle of the plate in counts where hitters can sit on his fastball. Also working in a 76-79 MPH curveball and low-80s changeup, he has shown good command of both pitches and the sense of when to mix them into sequences … Hot in the month of April for the Greenville Drive, outfielder Brandon Jacobs has been able to make the necessary adjustments during the course of the season to continue getting solid wood on the ball. Posting an excellent .325/.398/.602 line in June, Jacobs has found a groove with his power stroke, launching 6 of his 10 home runs in the month. The former Auburn football recruit has worked hard in transforming his body to that of a baseball player, and the results show with a more lean body that has been much less restrictive for him than the physique he possessed last season with Lowell. Balls jump off of Jacobs’ bat to all fields with excellent backspin, and he has shown a fluid stroke and improving batting eye … After a slow April, Portland’s Chih-Hsien Chiang has been one of the system’s hottest hitters since. Clubbing 13 home runs in 60 games so far this season, Chiang has posted an Eastern League-leading .616 slugging percentage despite his early scuffles. Finishing off 2010 strong for the Sea Dogs, he returned to Double-A for the 2011 season and has been proving that his skills may be in line for a challenge at the next level at some point this summer. However, his work in right field could still use a good bit of polish, especially with the routes he takes on fly balls … Greenville catcher Christian Vazquez has experienced a power surge in his last 10 games, drilling 5 home runs and adding 3 doubles. Struggling in May, the 20 year old has picked it up this month, making much better overall contact and looking more fluid with his swing.

Trending Down

Placed in High-A to start the season, 2011 has been a struggle at the plate for shortstop Derrik Gibson, who owns a line of .202/.275/.283 in 70 games. After having a solid season in 2009 with the Lowell Spinners, offensive progression has been slow for Gibson since entering full-season baseball last year. An excellent athlete, and while his game centers on speed, physical development has lagged behind for him and his lack of strength has made it difficult for him to consistently drive balls. Possessing a compact stroke, Gibson’s swing drags through the hitting zone due to his lack of strength and he has trouble pulling balls with much authority because of it. He does show a solid batting eye and a patient approach, but opposing pitchers are able to take advantage of the fact that he does not drive balls well and consistently pound the zone against him, resulting in a lot of weak contact … On the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery, right-handed pitcher Junichi Tazawa is still trying to find the feel for his secondary offerings and has yet to see his velocity return to pre-surgery levels. Working 84-88 MPH with his fastball and lacking a sharp-biting curveball, Tazawa struggled in his return to Double-A, only lasting 0.2 innings while giving up 6 earned runs on 3 hits for Portland on June 27 … After a torrid start to the season with Greenville and tearing through the South Atlantic League prior to his promotion to Salem, right fielder Bryce Brentz is still adjusting to the step up in competition. Brentz has fanned 11 times and drawn just 1 walk in 12 games in Salem, showing a need to become more selective. He does not project as a player that is going to log high walk totals, but his lack of selectivity and discipline allows pitchers to dictate his at-bats. Brentz will often chase offerings off the plate, or swing at pitchers’ pitches in good hitting counts. The development of a more relaxed approach at the plate is a must for him to continue to produce enough solid contact for his power to play up ... Back in Lowell for a second go-around, outfielder Seth Schwindenhammer has struck out a whopping 24 times in his first 37 plate appearances. Schwindenhammer, who hits out of an open, left-handed stance, has looked overmatched against higher velocity fastballs and breaking balls diving into the dirt in the early going of Lowell’s season.