EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 29, 2013

On-base machine Cecchini making his case at third base

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — Portland Sea Dogs third baseman Garin Cecchini, one of the top prospects in the Boston Red Sox system, entered yesterday with a .416 on-base percentage in 945 minor league plate appearances.

That’s 82 points higher than recently demoted Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks’ on-base percentage in 1,735 minor league plate appearances.

Cecchini certainly is showing terrific plate discipline, the ability to work counts and get on base. That is what separates him from the free-swinging Middlebrooks and makes Cecchini the more likely candidate to be the Red Sox’ long-term solution at third base.

“I’ve felt consistent really since (playing at) Lowell,” said Cecchini who just recently was promoted from Single-A Salem to Double-A Portland. “It’s just a matter of putting things together where you know which pitches you can drive and which pitches you can swing at and hit well. That all comes with time. I guess time’s on my side.”

Time is on his side. Cecchini just turned 22 on April 20. A 2010 fourth-round pick out of Barbe High in Lake Charles, La., Cecchini tore up Single-A Salem in the same fashion Red Sox prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. did last season.

In 214 at-bats at Salem, Cecchini hit .350 with a .469 on-base percentage, .547 slugging percentage, 1.016 OPS, five homers, 33 RBIs, 19 doubles, four triples and 15 steals. Entering Friday, he was 7 for 21 (.333) with a .417 on-base percentage with Portland.

“That’s how I help my team win — I get on base,” Cecchini said.

Cecchini vs. Middlebrooks

Middlebrooks showed tremendous power last summer (15 homers, 14 doubles in 267 at-bats) during his rookie season with Boston. He also had a .288 average.

But three concerning stats stood out: his .325 on-base percentage, 13 walks in 286 plate appearances and a rather higher-than-normal .341 batting average for balls in play. The latter indicated his average would drop this season.

Middlebrooks, who was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket this week, is a free-swinger and the signs of his impatient plate approach have been evident throughout his professional career. His minor league OBP is .334.

With the Portland Sea Dogs in 2011, Middlebrooks said, “You’re not going to make it to the big leagues walking.”

That might be true in some cases. But in most cases, a player won’t stay in the majors without walking his fair share.

Cecchini was asked (without Middlebrooks’ opinion being mentioned to him) whether a player can get to the big leagues by walking.

“I just feel like you get to the big leagues if you can help the big league team win,” he replied. “Whichever way you can do that, that’s your job.”

Cecchini, who has been batting third in the Sea Dogs lineup, has shown his job is getting on base, providing occasional power and being a pest on the bases. He stole 51 bases with Single-A Greenville last year.

Sensational Cecchini

Cecchini, a left-handed hitter, entered yesterday 5 for his first 8 against left-handers in Double-A. He tries to keep things simple. He’s always looking for his pitch.

“My approach is line drives up the middle,” Cecchini said. “If I’m late, it’s a line drive to left-center. If I’m early, it’s a line drive to right-center.

“In the early part of the game you’re going to want a pitcher to go deep into counts (to) see pitches,” Cecchini added. “Later on in the game, you might want to me more aggressive if you’ve seen him (the pitcher) already and you’ve got runners in scoring position. It all depends on the situation.”

He also added that his aggressiveness early in the game depends on whether there are runners in scoring position, how many outs there are that inning and whether he gets a pitch to drive early in a count.

Sox have options

With Cecchini and shortstop Xander Bogaerts, the top overall prospect in the Red Sox organization, Boston has future options beyond Middlebrooks, who must learn to develop a more patient and consistent approach.

Some think Bogaerts could grow too tall to remain at shortstop. And Jose Iglesias is better defensive option at shortstop, making it even more likely that Bogaerts will be moved to third base, first base or a corner outfield position.

Certainly, the quick progression of Bogaerts and Cecchini, who probably won’t be ready until midway through 2014 or Opening Day 2015, gives the Red Sox the option of at least thinking about trading Middlebrooks by this July 31 deadline for a pitcher or outfielder who could help them during the pennant race. Bogaerts could be added to Boston’s 40-man and promoted to Boston at anytime this year.

Cecchini definitely is one prospect the Red Sox will be looking to hold onto.

“I feel like I’ve grown as a person and a player since I signed, mentally especially,” Cecchini said. “And that’s the main key for me: just to stay consistent with my mechanics but stay consistent with my mental approach. ... Sometimes you fail, and that’s tough. But it’s what can you do to help your team win that day? And that’s what I try to live by day-to-day.”

CECCHINI'S DEFENSE Garin Cecchini was a shortstop who was moved to third base after being drafted. "It's going well," he said. "We've just got to get more consistent, more polished over there just like in hitting and base running. You have hard hit balls hit at you. You've got to read different angles (than at shortstop). It comes with time."