Gavin Cecchini and the recent history of first-round shortstops

The Mets picked SS Gavin Cecchini in the first round, as correctly forecasted by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo. Cecchini becomes the first shortstop selected by the Mets in the first round since they grabbed the immortal Ryan Jaroncyk in 1995. It’s easy to poke fun at first-round draft picks that didn’t make it but recent history has proven that it’s a bad gamble to spend a first-round pick on a shortstop.

Many people like taking shortstops, as that is where teams typically put their most athletic players. If a player has to move off SS, he can still switch to just about any other spot on the diamond and still be a contributor, especially if his bat will play. David Wright was a shortstop in high school, but quickly moved to third base in pro ball.

Unfortunately, not many high school shortstops have David Wright’s bat and no one expects Cecchini to deliver much power. Here’s part of his scouting report from Baseball America:

” Cecchini’s best attributes are his steadiness and defensive skills at shortstop. He has good hands and feet as well as the infield actions to stay at short, and excels at cutoff throws and being in the right spot defensively. His arm strength is a tick above-average and unfailingly accurate. His speed is about the same and plays up like his arm–he’s a skilled baserunner who takes extra bases and steals bases intelligently. Cecchini’s bat involves some projection, though. Some scouts believe he will be a bottom-of-the-order hitter despite his polished approach because of a lack of strength and impact bat speed. Cecchini is one of the safer bets in the high school class due to his polish, but scouts are mixed on his true upside.”

So, his upside is a 30-SB version of Ruben Tejada.

Tejada is a fine player and Mets fans should be thrilled if Cecchini reaches that ceiling. But in a farm system with few impact hitters, it’s disappointing that with a relatively high draft pick, Sandy Alderson went for “one of the safer bets.” After gambling on upside with Brandon Nimmo last year, I was caught off guard by what the Mets did in the first round in 2012.

It is unrealistic to expect high school players to advance to the majors quickly. So let’s look at a time period which allows draftees to spend some time in the minors. I looked at the 10-year period from 1996 to 2005 and noted all of the guys drafted as shortstops in the first round. This gave us a sample of 35 players. How many of those 35 players do you think developed into impact players at shortstop?

Just one – Troy Tulowitzki.

There have been players who went on and found success at other positions, most notably the Upton brothers, but if you spend a first-round pick on a shortstop hoping for a guy to play the position in the majors and be a star – prepare to be disappointed.

Here’s a chart of all the players drafted at shortstop in the first round from ’96-’05:

Year Name Pick bWAR
2005 Justin Upton 1 11.5
2005 Troy Tulowitzki 7 25.8
2005 C.J. Henry 17 0.0
2005 Cliff Pennington 21 4.1
2005 Tyler Greene 30 0.5
2004 Matt Bush 1 0.0
2004 Chris Nelson 9 (-2.0)
2004 Stephen Drew 15 12.2
2004 Trevor Plouffe 20 (-1.5)
2003 Aaron Hill 13 17.5
2003 Brandon Wood 23 (-4.0)
2002 B.J. Upton 2 11.9
2002 Scott Moore 8 (-0.9)
2002 Drew Meyer 10 (-0.3)
2002 Khalil Greene 13 7.4
2002 Russ Adams 14 (-0.4)
2002 John McCurdy 26 0.0
2002 Sergio Santos 27 2.2
2001 Bobby Crosby 25 4.0
2001 Josh Burrus 29 0.0
2000 Luis Montanez 3 (-1.4)
2000 David Espinosa 23 0.0
2000 Corey Smith 26 0.0
1999 Corey Myers 4 0.0
1998 Felipe Lopez 8 6.0
1998 Josh McKinley 11 0.0
1998 Adam Everett 12 11.3
1997 Michael Cuddyer 9 10.7
1997 Brandon Larson 14 (-1.1)
1997 Jason Dellaero 15 (-0.9)
1997 Adam Kennedy 20 18.2
1997 Kevin Nicholson 27 0.1
1997 Troy Cameron 29 0.0
1996 Matt Halloran 15 0.0
1996 Joe Lawrence 16 (-1.1)

Seven players in our sample have posted a bWAR in double digits. Ten have a rank of 0.0 and another 10 are in negative numbers. That means 20 of our 35 first-round shortstops provided at best no value and Kevin Nicholson  at 0.1 was hardly any better. Our 35 drafted shortstops have combined for just seven All-Star seasons, four of those coming at a position besides shortstop. Only Tulowitzki (2) and Lopez (1) made the All-Star team as a shortstop.

Experts seem to think that Cecchini will stick at shortstop so wipe out those visions of either Upton or Cuddyer. If we’re lucky we’ll get Drew or Khalil Greene.

Perhaps drafting has gotten better in the last few years and the 1996-2005 class is no longer accurate to project guys drafted in 2012. That’s certainly a possibility and recent first-round draft picks Manny Machado (#11), Francisco Lindor (#37) and Javier Baez (#61) all are highly regarded by Baseball America in their 2012 Top Prospects list.

But Wood (#3), Drew (#5), Nelson (#26), Crosby (#32) and Lopez (#36) also were once ranked highly on BA lists and didn’t quite pan out the way their fans hoped.

There is no guarantee that any first-round pick will pay off in a big way. So you can play it safe or swing for the fences. The Cecchini pick falls in the former category. It seems like something we would have expected out of previous GM Omar Minaya, rather than Alderson.

You need solid major league players. One of the criticisms of the ’07-’10 Mets is that they had a collection of stars and stiffs. But this year’s team has one star hitter (Wright) and a bunch of solid MLB players. The Mets were in an excellent position to swing for the fences and instead they choked up and went the other way.

Nimmo may turn out to be a stiff that never makes it. He may also turn out to be a perennial All-Star. Cecchini doesn’t have the ceiling that Nimmo does and his floor is the exact same thing. Given the history of our 1996-2005 first-round shortstops, we cannot say he has a higher chance to reach the majors. Yes, you can remind me of the scouts’ opinions quoted from BA earlier in this article. But all of the players are seemingly stars on Draft Day.

I wish the Mets had gambled on being able to sign Lucas Giolito, instead. Giolito has the double whammy of being an injury risk, but the payoff if he reaches his ceiling is just so much higher than with Cecchini. I would prefer upside in the first round and safety with later picks.

10 comments for “Gavin Cecchini and the recent history of first-round shortstops

  1. Bobby Townsend
    June 6, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Put him out there RIGHT NOW!!! Last nights performance at short was unbearable to watch. They (Quintanilla and Valdespin) really did cost them that game. Losing a game doesn’t bother me that much but that keeps me awake for a long time.
    Glad to have Thole back. I believe he is 6-3 and had he been 6-2, they would have lost the game on a wild pitch on an intentionally walk by Elwin Ramirez. Then he made at least two great blocks on balls in the dirt.

  2. Acoustic567
    June 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    We don’t know the facts yet, but Giolito reputedly has pretty high bonus demands. Paying a top-5 bonus to a #12 pick (with some injury history to boot) would really have wrecked the Mets’ bonus allocation for their top 10 picks. Maybe that was a gamble worth taking, but the point is that the trade-offs are a lot different now from what they were prior to the new CBA.

    I also think one can’t truly assess the the question of “shortstop-vs.-other-kind- of-player” in the first round w/o factoring in how difficult it is, typically, to acquire a player with particular skills through other means. Take Courtney Hawkins, the guy with high-power potential, as the archetypal alternative to Cecchini. There are a lot of RFs (Hawkins’ likely ultimate position) in the majors who produce at the level he reasonably can be expected to achieve. There are very few ML SSs who exceed in overall value what Cecchini is pretty likely to produce. No matter what, you have to have a shortstop, and even pretty good ones are not that plentiful. It may be easier to obtain a 25-HR RF through trades or free agency than a quality SS. So it’s not bWAR (or whatever) alone, but also the relative ease with which one can fill a position over time, that should govern the analysis.

    Of course, I got most of this from Toby Hyde’s recent post at metsminorleagueblog. 🙂

    • June 6, 2012 at 6:39 pm

      WAR has positional factors built into it so that the idea that it’s easier to find a 25-HR RF is already accounted for.

      To me the big question is what Cecchini is “likely to produce.” There’s no consensus among scouts, as some think he’ll hit enough to bat in the top of the order and others don’t see it that way. He’ll steal some bases but he won’t have any power. I just don’t see that package – regardless if he turns out to be a .300 hitter or not – being worth the #12 pick.

      • 7train
        June 6, 2012 at 11:23 pm

        I think it would be pretty stupid to spend the whole draft budget on one injured HS pitcher and HR’s are hardly the determining factor in selecting your SS of the future and 2nd he has hit HR’s. Line drive HR’s against top competition in the same tournaments and showcases Correra played in. So yeah he can hit some HR’s. Probably about 10 a year just like Reyes. He can probably handle SS better than the average Major leaguer and do so for a long time. Hit 30 doubles, steal 20 bases and have a handful of triples and run the infield for you if he hits as big as he can. Think Craig Biaggio at SS. That’s his ceiling and it’s even more reasonable to see him hitting his then Hawkins, Gallo, Dahl, ect and for pitchers? Every single one is a huge injury risk especially one who’s already hurt.

        • June 6, 2012 at 11:41 pm

          Biggio topped 20 HR 7X in his career and I’ll eat my hat if Cecchini does that once in his career in the majors. It’s just not a good comparison to say he’s Biggio at SS.

          Pitchers are always going to be injury risks. That’s why it’s more important to stockpile them than middle infielders. If Giolito was too much of a risk for your tastes, I’d rather have any of the pitchers drafted consecutively from 19-22 over Cecchini.

          • 7train
            June 7, 2012 at 1:21 pm

            Wacha, Straton and Sims would all have been good choices. Stroman I wasn’t as high on but I see why others are.

            Biggio may not be the best ceiling comp for Cechinni especially in the HR (and HBP) categories. Other than that perhaps 80% of Biggio’s offense combined with good reliable solid defense at SS is a more accurate description of what I think is possible.

            Last year I was screaming for Storey when he was available in the supplemental round (we took Fulmer) and I really wanted Swihart with our 1st pick. Why? Same reason I’m satisfied with Cechinni.

            Guys who can be mainstays in our everyday lineup for 8-10 years. Lots of them, especially up the middle. Guys who get up here at 22 or 23 and provide continuity rather than an ever revolving cast of hobo’s brought in on a year by year basis simply because we had a need and they were one of three free agents available that could fill that need or defensively defficient players forced into spots they’ve never played before and expected to learn on the job while trying to hit enough to prove they belong.

            An everyday base that new comers have to fit into that we haven’t had around here in 25 years. When Roger Clemenns was traded to the Yankees he talked about “fitting in.” When was the last time a new comer talked about needing to fit into the Mets? There’s never been anything to fit into when guys come here. They show up, play and leave. Get off at the last stop and head on into retirement.

            Very rarely does a Keith Hernandez come along and take the reigns and even he was only able to o so because their was a nucleus of good young hungry and talented kids up or real close.

            Star pitchers are oftentimes available in free agency and in trade/extensions but no one wants to come to a team that has no all around everyday talent in the lineup and no one who can adequately defend their position and pitchers operate more independently than everyday players. They have a job description and routine that is better suited to continue top performance at an age when the everyday player is entering his traditional years of decline.

            This team hasn’t produced a catcher since Todd Hundley was drafted in 1987. Second base has been a sieve since Fonzie and he was signed in 1991. SS we were lucky to win the lottery for Ordonez and luckier still with Reyes and now Tejada. Before Wright all we had done at 3B was Hubie Brooks. With Wright the young guys can point to him as a guy to fit in with and his talent level was worthy of a first round pick (supp) LF no one since Cleon despite the expenditure of 8 1st or 2nd round picks which at the most gave us two years apiece and at the worst zippo and even worse. CF Wilson/Dykstra ’77 and ’81. Good chance that den Dekker/Cecilianni/Puelo/Taijeron or Kirk can handle this position either on their own or in tandem and whoever doesn’t can move over and along with Vaughn and Nimmo, Lagares and Duda we should get a more than competent well conceived OF with competition and depth. RF we haven’t developed a long term solution since Straw drafted in 1980.

            Catcher and middle infield have been particular weaknesses masked over by the trade for Piazza and the luck of Ordonez and two huge (and inexpensive) IFA acqusitions in Alfonzo and Reyes. Hardly the type of thing we can count on occurring regularly.

            Pitching wise there are already 20 future Major League pitchers making their way up right now and another 20 that have a chance and at the least will be solid credible AAA depth on the 40 man roster with an option year or two.

            We’re so overstuffed with pitching right now that we have affiliates going to 6 man rotations and we’re actually weeding out even at the top and bottom levels of the minors. That doesn’t mean that I would be against subtracting the worst pitching prospect for a new guy who slots into the top 10 pitching prospect list but it won’t do us any good if we don’t have well developed, all around solid everyday players in their prime who can hit, catch the ball, know what to do with it and run the bases and that is something we are sorely in need of and have been for 25 years.

            We have lost pitching in the rule 5 the last two years, (Elvin Ramirez, Rhyner Cruz and De La Torre) lost Stinson, exposed Armando Rodriguez (lucky there) and DFA’d Schwinden and Egbert. We have young pitching 2 years in still in short season ball in Urbina and Morris partly due to losing an affiliate and mostly due to Savannah being so stuffed with quality pitching.

            2B, SS and catcher we’re not so blessed to have these difficulties. Even the two best 2B candidates have called the future into question (Havens and Muno) Tovar an everyday all around plus player? Tejada worth a big deal in 2017? Valdespin anyone? Shields? Sandoval? TJ? Nieve? Another ever revolving cast of used to be’s or journeymen so SS can resemble the last 20 years of 2B, RF and LF and worry about depth after an injury occurs?

            Proctor, Shirley, Presley, Wilson, Geotz, Traber, Heilman, Kazmir, Humber, Pelfrey Kunz, Holt and Harvey are 1st round pitchers we’ve selected since we last won the World Series. I don’t mind the Cechinni pick one bit but I would back him up with with Jurrickson Profar’s brother (also a SS) on July 2nd and hopefully a catcher or two as well.

  3. NormE
    June 6, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    It’s possible that the Mets looked at their farm system and decided that they had a paucity of ML caliber shortstops.
    I believe that the draft is a crapshoot, and even the most experienced, thorough baseball people keep their fingers crossed.
    Add in the allocation of your drafting budget to the permutation and we find that we really have no idea what considerations
    went into the decision-making process. Cecchini could be a bust, but so could Giolito. We waste a lot of ink pontificating
    on such matters. I guess I am as guilty as anyone else.

    • June 6, 2012 at 11:15 pm

      Hey NormE – good to hear from you!

      Ruben Tejada is 22 and Wilfredo Tovar is 20. Those are two guys more or less with the same skill sets as Cecchini. I just question the wisdom of taking a good field, good contact, good speed, no power SS at #12. I won’t say those guys are a dime a dozen but if our system is short on them – and we already have two of them – I’d rather wait to pick a guy with that skill set later in the draft.

      • 7train
        June 7, 2012 at 12:01 am

        Tovar will be a great backup MIer starting in 2014 and could push Tejada to 2B but will most likely be a light hitter in the .280/.350/.350 area. Nothing to sneeze at but Cechinni really hits well. Stings the ball and come 2017 Ruben can become a free agent, just as Cechenni is ready to come up.

        In a year in which upside included so many questions I like the idea of having a kid whose been on the national and international stage for over 5 years and preformed well enough to be considered in the top 20 as an 18 year old for the MLB draft.

        Cechinni’s skill set maybe a duplicate (I don’t think so) or may have been found later in the draft but not with the same likelyhood of hitting his ceiling. If we were talking about last years draft I’d agree completely but the 2012 upside picks came with serious questions and personally I’ve had more than my fill of watching so many MI innings filled by Roberto Alomar, Tony Fernandez, Mike Bordick, Bubba Trammell, Ramon Martinez, Wilson Valdez, Alex Cora, Luis Castillo, Joaquin Arias, Arenis Reyes, Jorge Valendia, Miguel Cairo and on and on and on.

        Let Tejada, Tovar, Gamboa, Muno, Evans, Cechinni and Kaupe sort themselves out, provide depth and competition and save us from a Murph Valdespin encore.

  4. MC
    June 9, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    Whatever you guys think, $3M is way too much money for an 18 year old, don’t care how good anyone thinks he’ll be.

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