April 3, 2014 at 6:00 AM
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Garin Cecchini had the highest on-base percentage of all qualifying minor leaguers last year at .443, a mark that even eclipsed by a point that of Miguel Cabrera, last season’s leader in Major League Baseball. But Cecchini sees that more as a step in his journey to the majors, than an accomplishment in itself.
“The stats take care of themselves at the end of the day,” the 22-year-old third baseman said at Pawtucket’s Media Day on Tuesday. “I can remember about two years ago when I was the worst hitter in the New York-Penn League [with the Lowell Spinners] and ended up being one of the best hitters [by the end of the year]. Stats end up being where they need to be at the end of the year. That on-base percentage last year, it is what it is, but it’s the past. This year is 2014, and we’re here to try to win and get to the big leagues.”
While known for his patient approach, Cecchini also has a lifetime .312 batting average in the minors. It is not just patience that leads to his success, according to Red Sox Director of Player Development Ben Crockett, but also his willingness to be aggressive at the plate.
“He manages the strike zone as well as anyone we have in the organization,” Crockett said. “He’s very selective, but he isn’t passive. He’s aggressive to his pitches and he’s really done a nice job as the level of competition has increased, in Double-A last year, in the fall league, and then in big league camp.”
This was Cecchini’s first spring training on the 40-man roster and taking part in big league camp. He was able to get into nine Grapefruit League games, batting .188/.316/.250. For it being his first time, the learning experience was much more important than the performance.
“You watch those guys in high school playing in World Series championships and stuff like that,” he said. “Just to be with them in the same locker room and learn from the experiences that they’ve had, and the failures that they’ve been through and how they’ve rebounded and played to their capabilities.
“I would talk to [Dustin] Pedroia, [Daniel] Nava. I talked to [Mike] Napoli a bunch, I would ask him questions. [Shane] Victorino’s awesome—they’re all awesome.”
When projecting Cecchini’s path to the majors, the presence of former top prospect Will Middlebrooks at his position in the majors clouds his future. As for having an answer to who the true “third baseman of the future” is though, Cecchini’s not sweating it.
“No one’s path is ever easy to the major leagues,” he said. “I just don’t think good players get blocked. I just don’t think so. If you’re a good player, good enough to play in the majors, you’re going to play in the majors.”
One question mark in Cecchini’s game is how much power he will ultimately develop. He has hit 14 home runs over his two-plus seasons in the system, but his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame suggests there may be more to come.
“Yeah, I think there certainly could be more [power] there,” said Crockett. “As a young player, that’s something that’s usually the last to develop. But really, that’s not our focus with Garin. The consistency with which he manages at-bats is I think going to be his calling card, no matter what other things he does well.”
Cecchini echoed those comments: “Everyone can say, ‘[he doesn’t] have power, he doesn’t have hand speed, blah, blah, blah.’ Who cares? Just be consistent, what can you do to help the team win? I’m not a power hitter, I’m not going to help my team win by hitting for power, I’m going to help my team by being a good hitter.”
Cecchini’s defense at third has been an area where he has made strides since coming into the system as well. After being drafted as a high school shortstop, his learning curve has been steep. He has become more natural at the position over the years, and now is close to average at the position.
“He’s polished up quite a bit,” Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles, who also coached him last year in Portland, said. “He’s got real good hands, he’s got some range laterally, the arm strength is there. I think the work he did in spring training with [Pawtucket coach] Bruce Crabbe and [Boston third base coach] Brian Butterfield is going to pay dividends for him.”
“[He’s made] big strides, I think,” Crockett agreed. “Just more of a comfort level with the position, and I think learning some of the nuances as he’s reached the upper levels and had more professional reps. I think it’s a great pairing here with Bruce Crabbe—having an infield coach, which is kind of unique, at least certainly in our system. Having an infield coach at a particular affiliate that is going to work with Garin, and all the infielders here at Pawtucket.”
One other aspect of his game that can be overlooked is his baserunning. Cecchini stole 51 bags while with Greenville two years ago, then another 23 last season. While stealing bases is not necessarily expected to be a major part of his skill set, the impact he can make on a baseball game with his legs should not be underrated.
“I think [his baserunning] was noted by the major league staff in his brief time in major league camp,” Crockett said. “He can be a well-above average baserunner. He’s got great instincts, he’s very aggressive out there, and he really pays attention to details. He doesn’t have the pure speed necessarily to be stealing bases against anyone in the league, but he has a really good sense of the game and is able to steal against the guys he should be able to steal against. He’s got good instincts and good first-step quickness to be able to take advantage.”
For now, starting the year in Pawtucket represents just how close Cecchini is to fulfilling a lifelong goal.
“I’m kind of living out my dream,” he said. “My dream is to play in the big leagues, and I can sniff it. I’m one step away. It’s so quick, you could get that call any day.”
Photo credit: Garin Cecchini by Matt Huegel
Matt Huegel is Managing Editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.