I’ll get this out of the way first: this has been an awful year for Pawtucket third baseman Garin Cecchini. Once a highly-touted prospect, notable for a solid hit tool and excellent plate discipline, Cecchini stalled out a bit in Triple-A back in 2014, but came into 2015 still as one of the team’s top prospects. That’s no mean feat for any young player, but in a system as deep as the Red Sox’s, coming in eighth place in BP’s team prospect rankings is still very sharp.
Of course, Cecchini’s 2015 was the stuff nightmares are made of and, rather ironically, the opposite of how well his brother Gavin performed for the New York Mets. In his second tour at Triple-A, Cecchini’s offense completely fell apart. To start, Cecchini — an on-base fiend in the lower minors — posted a .286 OBP against not-quite-big-league competition, and supplemented that with a .296 slugging percentage. When he hit, and that wasn’t often, he sure didn’t hit for power. When he didn’t hit, he didn’t walk all that much either.
If Cecchini were particularly young for the International League, perhaps you could write off his Pawtucket numbers, or chalk it up to injury. Unfortunately, Garin is a reasonably healthy 24-year-old who posted a nigh-disturbing -2.2 WARP in Pawtucket. To put that in perspective, Garin was more than two wins worse than the type of guy that any Triple-A team can find on the open market. Most of that is due to his horrid .209 True Average (TAv) — remember, .260 is roughly equivalent to league-average — but the rest is due to the fact that he’s been playing the less difficult defensive position of corner outfield rather than third base at times. Yeah, his defense isn’t so hot either.
Here’s a quote from BP’s July 29th “What the Scouts are Saying” column, which illustrates the nut of Cecchini’s 2015: “Playing the outfield and looks dead to me. I am very underwhelmed watching him this year.”
Next year will be Cecchini’s age-25 season, and things, frankly, aren’t looking so good. He’s on the cusp of losing his prospect status, and may be a guy who’s looking for a new home in 2016. Don’t expect to find him on a Sox Top 10 prospects list … in fact, don’t expect to find him on any team’s Top 10 Prospects list, unless he somehow ends up in Anaheim.
I don’t point out how bad Cecchini’s been out of some weird sense of schadenfreude, but to illustrate the point that some prospects tend to wash out before having any sort of impact in the big leagues. It’s a fact of life, and it’s not one of my favorite things. (Growing up following the Mets during “Generation K” has scarred me permanently.) I sincerely hope Garin figures out how to be a big league regular at some point, but the odds don’t look good today.
So here’s the bright side, at least for the greater Red Sox nation: Cecchini washing out appears to be something of an anomaly over the past few years, not the rule.
Look at the current Boston roster, and you’ll see guys at critical positions playing damn good baseball. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Blake Swihart all play mission-critical roles in the present (ugh!) and the future (yay!) of the franchise. Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez … and maybe even Brian Johnson(!) … look like they can hold down consistent rotation spots.
In fact, if you were to examine the 2014 Baseball Prospectus Boston Red Sox Top 10 Prospect list, you’d find that six of the ten players on that list (Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Owens, Swihart, Betts, and Christian Vazquez) look like really nice big leaguers already. Eduardo Rodriguez didn’t make the Sox’s list, but he was high up on the Orioles’ list. Jason Parks used to write that Prospects Will Break Your Heart, but precious few of the guys from Boston’s minor league system (Bryce Brentz, maybe Matt Barnes) have done that recently.
I wondered how true this might be of other teams with solid-to-great farm systems, much like the one Boston’s had for the past couple of years. I took a quick look at the Rangers, the Astros, the Cubs and the Twins.
The Cubs are a prime example of a team that has gotten a ton of early success from their prospects … and taking a look at their 2014 list of top guys shows us a number of players who are already contributors, much like the Sox. There’s Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler on the list, and Javier Baez, who’s starting to come on (finally). Plus, Addison Russell was added mid-way through the season, and Arodys Vizcaino has finally turned into a late-inning reliever, albeit for the Braves. At the same time, the Cubs feature more than a couple of guys who have watched their stocks fall (Albert Almora, or Arismendy Alcantara, anyone) or are still too far away (Dan Vogelbach, Pierce Johnson). All in all, the Cubs have done pretty well.
The Rangers converted some of their prospect depth (Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams) from the 2014 list into Cole Hamels, and Rougned Odor, Chi Chi Gonzalez and Joey Gallo look strong. The Astros are getting big contributions from Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Lance McCullers, but may take hits on Mark Appel and Jonathan Singleton. And the Twins may have hit on Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano (duh!), as well as Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios (maybe!), but they haven’t quite fared as well as the Sox across the board yet.
The trick is to acquire enough good-to-great prospects that you can absorb the disappointment when one or more don’t look so hot any more.
The Red Sox’s success with young players has mirrored or exceeded these other squads, not to mention the fact that Boston has been able to reload their farm system as well as, or better than, all these other teams — without selling off major parts.
Every one of these other stocked farm systems has seen a position player, if not multiple players, fail to achieve the lofty goals set for them. Alcantara, Luis Sardinas, Singleton, Josmil Pinto … it almost never fails. Some prospects just don’t really pan out, at least the way we expect. Garin Cecchini is just part of this process.
It’s also still possible that Cecchini could turn out to be useful — I just wouldn’t put a whole lot of money on it. I quickly reviewed the last few years of hitters who performed as poorly as Garin in the International League and played the outfield. Do you remember Pawtucket’s very own Che-Hsuan Lin (2012)? How about Ronald Bermudez (2011 and 2013)? They hit about as well those seasons as Cecchini did this year, and they’ve not exactly lit the world on fire. Cecchini certainly might not either.
Not every top prospect makes it, so it stands to reason that some of the middle-of-the-road guys are bound for failure too. The trick is to acquire enough good-to-great prospects that you can absorb the disappointment when one or more don’t look so hot any more. Cecchini’s career isn’t over yet, and there’s still a chance that he could end up as a useful big-league cog. But even if he doesn’t — and it really doesn’t look like he will at this point — Sox fans should be happy they’ve struck gold on so many other players.
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