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April 3, 2013 at 6:40 AM

2013 Prospect Previews: Garin Cecchini and Blake Swihart

Position: Third Base
2012 Teams: Greenville Drive
2013 Team: Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 21

Strengths: Cecchini possesses a sweet stroke from the left side of the plate. He easily rifles the head of the bat through the strike zone, generating above-average bat speed. The 21-old-year has the type of strong, quick hands to keep the barrel of the bat in the hitting zone and also use them to stay inside of the ball. The post-contact extension has been improving over the course of the last season or so as well. Cecchini’s hit tool grades as solid-average. The third baseman’s offensive skills are enhanced by his strong plate patience. Cecchini has grown into a relaxed hitter in the box, approaching each plate appearance with a plan in place. The left-handed hitter is not afraid to take a strike or let a pitch pass that he is not looking for in a hitter’s count. Developing physically since he signed with the organization in 2010, Cecchini’s body has become firm and strong, especially in the lower half. There’s raw power for him to tap into, with the potential to hit 18-20 home runs down the line.

Development Needs: Cecchini has yet to learn how to get more lift out of his swing. He can struggle with his stride, and get his hips too open, which causes the head of the bat to yank through the zone when pulling the ball. Many of his pull-side drives presently have a lot of top spin or hook. The young hitter needs work coordinating his lower body in his swing to fully tap into his strength. Cecchini also tends to get a bit too far forward when attacking breaking balls. His batting eye has been developing to pick the spin up quicker, but he is still in the learning stages of how to wait back on them. The 21-year-old can at times both lunge at and chase sharper breakers away. Defensively, Cecchini has been improving with his actions at the hot corner, becoming less stiff and robotic in the last season. He isn’t the most light on his feet, though, with progress still needed when it comes to his reads and first step. Given he has been making strides and showing defensive progression, there is room to grow into an average-to-better defender at third. He will have to continue to work at it and potential loss of athleticism as he further fills out could be an issue.

2013 Outlook: Cecchini made a strong transition to full-season baseball in 2012 and is set to take the next step up the ranks to High A. This placement will further challenge the young hitter’s approach at the plate. With the level of competition rising, Cecchini will be pushed to be a bit more aggressive in the box given the increased ability of opposing pitchers to throw strikes, especially with their secondary offerings. At times last season, the third baseman was able to just wait on fastballs. The big area of interest is the potential development of Cecchini’s power. In scouting the young hitter, I’ve felt the raw power is there for him to hit home runs. The question is whether he can iron some of the kinks out and also maintain his contact ability. I see Cecchini moving forward in this department during the 2013 season. The totals may not accrue due to the spacious home ballpark, but his contact looked truer in spring training. If he does show progress, I expect the 21-year-old to gain further steam as a projected big-league regular and push into the next tier of prospects.

Position: Catcher
2012 Team: Greenville Drive
2013 Team: Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 21

Strengths: The switch-hitting catcher displays a feel for hitting that lends clues towards a player who can hit for a high batting average. Swihart possesses very loose and quick hands, which guide the head of the bat fluidly through the strike zone. He has an early idea of how to keep those hands inside of the ball and use the whole field. Newer to hitting left-handed, the 21-year-old still has some growth ahead of him from that side of the plate as it continues to become more natural for him. Swihart flashes the ability to wait back on offerings, before unleashing his swing to produce strong backspin. As a lefty, he can drive balls hard into both gaps and has been improving with turning on inside pitches, rather than yanking them. Defensively, Swihart is very athletic for a catcher, with quick reactions and improving skills. The backstop fires smoothly out of his crouch when trying to cut down would-be base stealers or smothering pitches in the dirt. His catch-and-throw mechanics are an asset, with the arm grading as plus.

Development Needs: Presently, Swihart is on the raw side with both his approach and pitch recognition. The 21-year-old was a bit behind the curve with these aspects during his first full professional season. The catcher is still learning which pitches he can and cannot handle. There are times when he will attack fastballs that are in bad spots early in sequences or needlessly expand his zone in a hitter’s count. The process is not there yet to grind through plate appearances and be comfortable with letting offerings he's not looking for pass. Some of that lack of comfort stems from his need for improvement with picking up the spin of breaking balls more quickly. Swihart was often easily fooled by secondary offerings, jumping out at them and transferring his weight too early. There was progress in the latter half of last year. While the defensive tools are evident when scouting the prospect, the body composition leaves some questions as to whether he will remain behind the plate in the long-run. Swihart has been filling into his frame since signing as a pro, but it doesn’t have the look of one that typically holds up to the rigors of catching 125-135 games year in and year out. A move off the position in the future may be likely to preserve his body and keep him on the field for the long season.

2013 Outlook: Swihart’s first season was a good introduction into the daily grind of professional baseball and exposed him to a consistent level of competition that he had only seen previously in bursts. The catcher will be challenged further this year with a placement in High A. Swihart showed that he was getting more comfortable as last season progressed, but I do see an adjustment in front of the 21-year-old in the Carolina League. He’s going to be pressed to differentiate between pitches quicker by the higher quality arms. Things may be a struggle early for Swihart, but he has shown the aptitude to make adjustments and I expect progress to be made by the end of the year. It may be subtle, however. There’s a gap for Swihart to close to bring both the present offensive and defensive tools towards more polished skills. I see the prospect as needing ample development time, with his progression likely a full year of seasoning at each level. 2013 is about furthering Swihart’s base of experience and pushing his secondary skills. Passing the test here will put him in position to take the next step in 2014, and, in this view, at that stage his tools will begin to show more traction towards reaching their full utility.

Photo Credits: Garin Cecchini by Dave Letizi; Blake Swihart by William Parmeter

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen