The Situation: The resurgent Mets have closed the gap in the National League Wild Card standings to a mere game. Their bench isn’t very good, and second baseman Neil Walker is out for the year with a back injury. Gavin Cecchini has to go on the 40-man roster after the season, the Mets have some open 40-man spots due to injury, and calling him up now doesn’t burn an option, so here he is.
Background: Cecchini, the brother of former top Red Sox prospect Garin Cecchini, was drafted 12th-overall by the Mets in the 2012 Draft. Gavin has moved up the system mostly one level at a time, not hitting much at the lower levels. Over the past two years at Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Vegas, he’s started to hit for average, which caused him to regain some luster. We ranked him as the fourth-best prospect in the Mets system entering 2016.
Scouting Report: Cecchini can hit pretty well. He’s got a short, level swing that’s geared for contact, having dropped some timing mechanisms present in the low-minors that were causing the bat to play down. He’ll hit his fair share of line drives, but there isn’t substantial raw over-the-fence power present to project out, even in batting practice. Frankly, if there was, it probably would’ve shown up in the Las Vegas launching pad, where he only hit eight homers in 2016. He’s developed pretty good plate coverage and pitch recognition, so he should continue make a lot of contact, but moving out of Vegas is going to take a lot of air out of his superficially strong .325 batting average. There just isn’t a lot of physicality here—even his speed is average—so projection past what he already is presents an issue, but he could hit for enough average to carry it all.
If that offensive package, such as it is, was paired with a strong shortstop profile, well, we’d be talking a lot more about Gavin Cecchini. His actions at shortstop are fluid, and I’ve seen looks where it was all smooth enough that I thought he might stick at the position. But at the end of the day, the physical tools—especially the arm—just aren’t a good match for the shortstop position, and it causes him to rush and make mistakes on top of the plays he already wasn’t making. The statistics we have for his Triple-A performance back that up, with a .930 fielding percentage and -10.0 FRAA at Vegas in 2016. It’s telling that even after the Mets had announced Cecchini’s pending call-up, when they needed an emergency shortstop starter for Monday’s game in Cincinnati, it was Matt Reynolds they summoned a day early.
Based on his overall tools and skills, second base should be a better match, and it’s been pegged as his long-term future home for a good while now. The arm and range are only a bit light for shortstop, and that should make them more than adequate for second. But despite having talked about giving him second base looks for a few months, the Mets only actually started exposing him to the position as a pro last week, and three games at the end of the season isn’t much of a trial. He was originally planned to go to the Arizona Fall League to learn second, but his call-up will postpone or cancel that assignment. It’s not yet clear whether the Mets will be comfortable letting him learn on the job in the majors.
Immediate Big League Future: Mets manager Terry Collins has displayed some implacability in regards to trusting his young talent, and with limited experience at second, it’s easy to see Collins relegating Cecchini to occasional pinch-hitting and mop-up duty. But with Walker out for the year, there isn’t a whole lot separating Cecchini from regular playing time—Wilmer Flores can’t play every infield position at once, and even without another injury Flores could very easily slide to first for a deeply struggling James Loney (-0.8 WARP in 2016) to make room for Cecchini. A little further down the line, Cecchini could be the regular second baseman in 2017 if the Mets don’t re-sign Walker. —Jarrett Seidler
Fantasy Take: The season-ending injury to Neil Walker has left the Mets a little thin in the middle infield. Gavin Cecchini, their shortstop at Triple-A Las Vegas, was called up to provide depth at second base, shortstop, and third base for the big league club, but he won’t be an everyday player for now with Wilmer Flores starting at second, Asdrubal Cabrera at short, and Jose Reyes at third. Given the health histories and limitations of those players, it wouldn’t take much for him to end up in a more prominent role by the end of the season.
For the first few years of his career, the Louisianian didn’t hit much but continued to progress through the Mets’ system as an excellent defensive shortstop. In 2015, he had a breakthrough offensively at Double-A Binghampton, hitting .317/.377/.442 with seven home runs and three stolen bases. And it’s a good thing his bat came around when it did, because scouts started to sour on his defense at shortstop around the same time. He kept hitting this year, posting a .324/.387/.448 line with eight homers and three steals in Triple-A, although that line is less impressive than his 2015 one despite the higher level since Las Vegas is a great place to hit.
As a fantasy asset, Cecchini is an awkward value proposition. He doesn’t hit many homers or steal many bases, so most of his offensive potential comes from his batting average. That’s a problem, since batting average is subject to more variance than any other offensive statistic. On top of that, it’s unclear how much of that .300+ average in Triple-A is attributable to his offensive skill and how much of it is attributable to his hitter-friendly home park in Las Vegas and the offense-inflating Pacific Coast League. And while his walk rate is decent in the high minors, walk rates for hitters without much home run power often don’t translate well into the major leagues, where pitchers quickly learn that they don’t need to nibble against batters who won’t take them deep.
Bid conservatively, $2 or $3 at most. He doesn’t have a spot in the lineup every day, and he doesn’t hit many homers or steal many bases. He might hit for average, but in spot starts, even if he does hit .300+, it won’t move the needle for your roto team due to his limited playing time. You might want to go a dollar or two more than that in OBP leagues in case he bucks the odds and sustains his decent walk rate with the Mets. You also might want to go a dollar or two higher in keeper leagues, since he still has some room left for offensive growth and since Neil Walker is a free agent this offseason. —Scooter Hotz
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