August 28, 2013 at 11:45 AM
With Xander Bogaerts in the major leagues, the best pure hitter left in the Red Sox minor league system is third baseman Garin Cecchini (pictured). After a blistering start with the Salem Red Sox, during which Cecchini put up a line of .350/.469/.547 in 214 at-bats, he has slowed down somewhat with the Portland Sea Dogs, but he has still put together a very respectable line of .294/.420/.393 in 214 at-bats as of August 27.
Cecchini has a solid frame, listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, but looks bigger than that. He has filled out since he entered the system, especially in his lower half, and has limited physical projection left. Cecchini’s calling card is his hit tool, which is his only truly plus tool. He has plus-to-better bat speed from the left side and a simple, smooth, aesthetically pleasing swing. He has solid swing mechanics, starting with a slightly open stance that he closes on approach. He uses a slight leg lift as his timing device and gets good hip rotation in his swing. He is short and direct to the ball and does an excellent job of staying inside the baseball. He doesn’t try to do too much at the plate, rarely over-swinging or getting caught trying to cheat on a pitch by clearing his hips early. Cecchini has a knack for making solid contact, and even when he gets out he tends to hit the ball hard. He has also shown a willingness to use all fields, but at his best, he works from gap to gap and up the middle.
Cecchini’s hit tool plays up because of his advanced approach at the plate. He has very good pitch recognition skills and an advanced knowledge of the strike zone. He also consistently puts together quality at-bats, isn’t afraid to take a walk, and rarely gets cheated or chases pitchers pitches at the plate. At times, he does seem to get a little fidgety and jumps at the ball, often resulting in him rolling over a ground ball to the right side of the infield.
The question mark with Cecchini at the plate is how much power he has. Even if he hits for below-average power (12-15 home runs a year at the big league level) he brings a lot of value to the table because of his hit tool and instincts. Even though he has the frame of a power hitter, his swing isn’t really one designed for power, but instead, for hitting hard line drives to the gaps. He uses a lot of upper body in his swing and doesn’t get great leverage. He also doesn’t sell out for power by dropping his back shoulder. Instead, he keeps his swing path more level and straight through the ball. Finally, as Cecchini is very selective at the plate, he takes a decent amount of hittable pitches, especially early in counts. In some at-bats those pitches will be the best one to drive that he will see. Currently, Cecchini has seven home runs in 428 at-bats, with only two of those coming with Portland. At his peak, Cecchini could have average power at the big league level, as he still has shown, albeit infrequently, the ability to drive the ball with lift and backspin. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if he settles into more fringe-average power (15-17 home runs a year).
Cecchini also has great instincts on the diamond, which allow his tools to play up. He comes from a strong baseball family; his brother was a first round pick of the Mets in 2012 and both his parents coached, and he really understands how to play the game. The area where his instincts show up in the box score is on the base path. Though he only possesses average speed, he is an adept base stealer, with 51 stolen bases with Greenville in 2012 and 22 combined between two levels this year. His speed plays because he does an excellent job reading pitchers, frequently picking the right pitch to run on, and he gets really good jumps.
Defensively, Cecchini should be able to stay at third base, but he doesn’t project to be much more than an average to solid-average defender over there. Back in his first season with Lowell, Cecchini was adjusting to third base for the first time while coming off a significant knee injury that caused him to miss his entire senior season of high school. He looked uncomfortable and was tentative going after balls, especially when he had to push off his knee. Since then he has steadily improved, but he still is rigid at the position and doesn’t always stay down on the ball. He has a plus arm, but is relatively straight up when he throws. Cecchini’s bat is a lot more valuable at third base than elsewhere, so moving him off the position would only be a last resort. If he had to move, his defensive skill set profiles best in left field, but that would put a lot more pressure on his bat.
How Cecchini plays over the rest of the season and in the Arizona Fall League will likely determine where he starts next season, either back with Portland or in Pawtucket. Regardless, he has positioned himself to potentially see the big leagues at some point in 2014; the key things to watch for, going forward, are his defensively ability and power development.
Photo Credit: Garin Cecchini by Kelly O'Connor
Ian Cundall is a Northeast Scout for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.