SCOTTSDALE, AZ — It takes a special something to man shortstop of the New York Mets, and it’s something the team hasn’t found since Jose Reyes left after the 2011 season. It’s something that Gavin Cecchini believes he has. No, he knows he has it. While the line is long for those who don’t agree, Cecchini is using every experience thus far to prepare him for the opportunity that may be coming sooner rather than later.
Expectations, failure, doubt and success. In just three years, Cecchini hit for the cycle in terms of the stages that minor leaguers find. He’s not afraid of any of them, and he certainly isn’t afraid of the challenges that still lie ahead.
“In this game, everyone is gonna fail at some point or another,” he said at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick prior to an Arizona Fall League game last week. “This game is based upon failure. There’s never been a guy who has succeeded more than he’s failed.”
The expectations began even before the Mets selected him with the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft. Cecchini played for his dad, Glenn, at Barbe High School in Louisiana, his mom Raissa helped and his older brother Garin was drafted in the fourth round in 2010 by the Boston Red Sox. Glenn has led Barbe to seven state championships. That’s where Gavin learned the most important part of his game.
“My parents actually always engraved it in me and my brother,” Gavin said. “You’re gonna have the talent, but what’s going to put you over the top is hard work. There’s always someone trying to take your position, and that’s the reality of it.
“It’s not just me, it’s professional baseball. I don’t care if you’re in the big leagues cause there’s people in the minors coming up, and I don’t care if there’s someone in the minors. There’s always someone behind you, and there’s always gonna be someone in front of you. My parents taught me you gotta work. When you stop working, there’s always someone working to try to get what’s yours. So I’m always working, trying to be the player I can be.”
The work was there but the results weren’t early on. After hitting .246 in rookie ball, .273 in Low-A and .247 in 2014 between Low-A and High-A, stock was down on Cecchini, leaving Mets fans to wonder if it was time to give up on the first-round pick.
For those that lost faith in him, it was easy to point out that the shortstop was drafted ahead of the likes of Corey Seager, Stephen Piscotty, Lance McCullers and Joey Gallo–all rookies who made their debuts this season after heralded minor-league careers.
That talk went away after his year at Double-A. Cecchini hit .317, good for third in the Eastern League, and raised his OPS from .707 in 2014 to .819. He finished ninth in doubles in the Eastern League, increased his walk rate and his strikeouts continued to drop.
Does he hear those that are already giving up on him?
“Yeah I hear it,” he says of the naysayers. “But I just keep proving people wrong every single day. Not many people say (I can’t make it) anymore. It’s just hard work on my part and believing in myself more than anyone.
“That’s another thing–people can say what they want about me. It really doesn’t phase me one bit. It just makes me work harder to do what I do best and that’s play shortstop, get hits and score runs.”
One of the things that gets lost in Cecchini’s development is his age. He doesn’t turn 22 until December 22nd. He was 3.4 years younger than the average hitter in Double-A last season. Mentally, he’s wise beyond his years. His improvement was largely due to using that mentality to develop a better plan.
In a game of adjustments, it took a while for Cecchini to catch on. He says when he first started playing professional baseball, he’d make adjustments every five games or so. The next year five games turned to two games. Two games became five at-bats, and the adjustments happened quicker and quicker. Now his adjustments are coming at-bat by at-bat, pitch by pitch.
“That’s where you hear ‘it’s all about the process’,” he said. “I didn’t understand that at first. It means that you don’t really focus on the result because if you work on the things you need to work on, the result will be there.
“I didn’t fiddle with too many things (this year). I just went to the ballpark, same routine, same approach and knew the result was gonna come.”
The results showed up in Double-A and carried over into the Fall League. In 13 at-bats, Cecchini had five hits, four walks and just one strikeout. His stay in Phoenix will be short, however, as he’s now training with Team USA for the Premier12 team. After practice and three exhibition games against Canada in Phoenix, he’ll travel with the team to Taipei.
His only goal?
“Winning a gold medal and bringing it back home to the states.”
When he returns, his focus will shift back to his next goal, and that’s helping the New York Mets win baseball games.
It’s a good time to be a part of the organization that reached the World Series this season and doesn’t show any signs of going away any time soon. Even in the minor leagues, Cecchini is watching from afar and appreciating the success in Queens.
“It’s something that all of us players strive for,” he said. “You don’t strive for anything less than being in the World Series.”
Cecchini might not be that far away, at least not from New York. He’s the No. 90 prospect in baseball according to MLB.com just ahead of the Astros A.J. Reed, who many expect to arrive in Houston next year.
Meanwhile, the Mets will have questions that need to be answered in their infield.
Daniel Murphy is a free agent after this season and might’ve priced his way out of New York this postseason. Once the luster of the playoffs wears off, opinions of Wilmer Flores could revert back to what they were in the middle of the season when the team attempted to trade him. David Wright’s future is also in question due to injuries.
All of those things considered, an opportunity could present itself for Cecchini to show he’s ready to end the string of shortstops that includes Flores, Ruben Tejada and Omar Quintanilla and give the Mets their first long-term answer at shortstop since Reyes.
“I know for me, my expectations are to be in the big leagues as soon as possible to help the team win, and I don’t really think anything less than that,” he said. “I know that I’m the type of player that can be out there playing shortstop and helping the New York Mets win World Series rings.
“That’s just the confidence I have in myself, and I know what I can do as a player.”
There’s no doubting that.