Organizations always try their best to temper expectations and avoid getting too excited for the future, but that’s become a real challenge for the Boston Red Sox in recent years. Possessing one of the top minor league systems in all of Major League Baseball, the organization is stacked with a number of standout prospects who could potentially step into significant roles for the big league club in the coming seasons – some of them even as early as this season.
One of those prospects is third baseman Garin Cecchini.
Originally a 4th Round selection in the 2010 Draft (#143 overall) out of high school, Boston elected to draft Cecchini despite the fact that he’d sat out his entire senior season due to injury. The Louisiana native had hit .402 with 6 HR and 43 RBI during his junior year, enough to show teams what kind of potential talent he could bring to the table. Boston has seen quick results from that draft class – which also included Bryce Brentz, Anthony Ranaudo, and Brandon Workman (the lone pick who’s actually reached the big leagues to date) – and all indications point to Cecchini potentially being the best from the mix.
Cecchini stepped in and batted .298/.398/.500 in 133 PA his first season with Short Season Lowell. He’d only get into 32 games that year after fracturing his left wrist in late July, but that didn’t stop him from being bumped up to Class-A Greenville the following season. There he’d continue to show promise, hitting .305/.394/.433 over 526 PA. He’d hit 38 doubles and also steal 51 bases on the year (only 6 CS, an 89.4% success rate) and would rank atop the Sally League’s leaders in fielding percentage at third base (.944%).
2013 would prove to be a big season for the right-hander who hits from the left side of the plate. He’d begin the year with High-A Salem before earning a promotion to Double-A Portland following the Carolina/California League All Star Game (he’d go 0 for 2 with a walk). Combined on the year he’d play in 129 games, reaching safely in 120 of them – including a 39 game streak that spanned through July and August. Collectively he’d bat .322/.443/.471 in 557 PA – adding 33 doubles, 23 stolen bases, and more walks than strikeouts (94 to 86).
The year would also include an appearances in the Futures Game (1 for 2 with an RBI for Team USA) and a trip to the Arizona Fall League. Cecchini’s .443 on base percentage led all minor leaguers for the 2013 season. His .322 batting average, 144 hits, and 94 walks were all atop Boston’s organizational leaders.
Making the jump up to Triple-A Pawtucket this season after being added to Boston’s 40-man roster this past winter, the 22 year old Cecchini (he’ll turn 23 later this month) has wasted little time getting into the swing of things.
During Thursday’s home opener he’d collect a hit in his first at bat, a single, and walked in his second. Defensively he was also impressive – making a running over the shoulder catch up the third base line and later sliding to his right to stop a ball from going down the line, spinning and firing a rocket across to first before the ball could be ruled foul. Friday night he’d add another hit, a pivotal two-run double in the driving rain that broke the scoring open for Pawtucket in the 5th inning.
His first at bat on Saturday was another hit, a line drive single to center field. Cecchini, who had 86 career stolen bases in the minors entering play, was so active off first base that he had both ends of Lehigh Valley’s battery pre-occupied with him between throws over from the mound and an almost snap throw from the catcher. It was likely for good reason, as Cecchini didn’t waste much time before stealing second cleanly.
Those quick instincts carry over into the field. His first step was so quick in the third that he nearly cut off a routine ground ball to shortstop, before backing off and allowing Brock Holt to make the play. The next inning he’d make a clean diving stop on a ball going to left, popped up, and threw the runner out by a couple of steps at first.
He’d work a walk to get things going in the fourth, only to score with ease a few pitches later on a Dan Butler double to left.
In the fifth he’d come up with two on and two out, only to line a single into right to drive in another run.
His third hit of the day would come in the seventh, another single up the middle.
Third base in Boston is a position with plenty of history and discussions have already started in Boston surrounding the team’s future at the hot corner. They come at little surprise given the disappointing 2013 season from current third baseman Will Middlebrooks. The 25 year old struggled mightily at the plate early on, resulting in a demotion to Triple-A and some adjustments to his mechanics before ultimately leading to Xander Bogaerts making his debut late in the season, leaving him to hold down the position through the team’s playoff run instead of Middlebrooks. He’d finish the year with a .227/.271/.425 line in 374 PA, with 17 HR but 98 strikeouts. Entering the 2014 season he’s combined for 660 plate appearances in his career – about a full season’s worth over 169 games – in which he’s hit a collective .254/.294/.462 with 32 HR, 103 RBI, and 168 SO. Decent, but not spectacular, numbers.
Middlebrooks admitted during Spring Training that some vision issues seemed to contribute to his struggles from a year ago. New contact lenses appeared to help through the spring, but that hasn’t stopped speculation about where he could be moved in order to make room for Cecchini once he’s deemed MLB-ready. Much of that speculation has him sliding across the diamond to first base. That, however, is hardly a forgone conclusion.
Mike Lowell. Butch Hobson. Bill Mueller. John Valentin. Each has their place among the fabled third basemen in Boston Red Sox history but none compare to Hall of Famer Wade Boggs (who’s #26 has still not been retired by the organization, much to dismay and confusion of many as William Tasker explains). Cecchini could very well be the organization’s best third baseman since The Chicken Man held down the position.
Boggs was a 7th Round pick in the 1976 Draft (#166 overall and just 20 selections after another HOFer, Ozzie Smith) and would spent the better part of five seasons in the minor leagues before arriving in Boston for good, including two years (!!) at Triple-A. Collectively Boggs would amass 2,680 plate appearances in the minor leagues during which he’d hit .318/.412/.386. Cecchini, for comparison, has hit .312/.417/.458 in just over 1,200 PA entering this season.
Over the course of an 18 year career, the first 11 of which were spent in Boston, Boggs was a perennial All Star. He’d bat .328/.415/.443 for his career, winning eight Silver Slugger Awards and a pair of Gold Gloves.
Perhaps one of his best known qualities (and there are many) however was his plate discipline, which is where the comparisons to Cecchini truly begin. Boggs walked 1,412 times in his career. He struck out just 745 times. It’s an astounding ratio that no current day players can really compare to. His ability to foul off pitch after pitch at will always seemed to astound opposing pitchers. At times he truly seemed as though he was doing so simply to run up their pitch counts, even in an era before anyone really kept track of such numbers.
Naturally it’s too early to suggest that Cecchini will have a career similar to that of Boggs. The two have similar batting averages and on base percentages through the minor leagues. Neither brings much power to the table and both are strong defenders.
To call Cecchini the “next Boggs” at this point would simply be irresponsible. If the speculation is going to begin looking towards the future, however, then perhaps there is room to openly wonder just what the organization might have on their hands. Cecchini won’t be rushed to the big leagues by the Boston Red Sox. They have the luxury of waiting until he’s ready and until there’s a need (and room) on the active roster. Should he continue to get on base as he has been thus far at Triple-A he just might force their hand by mid-summer or, at the least, make those speculatory conversations a little more frequent.