There were 31 first-round picks in the 2012 Draft, the extra one due to the Blue Jays not signing their 2011 top choice. Of those first round picks, 17 were from the high school level and 14 were college selections. The Mets took high school shortstop Gavin Cecchini with the 12th overall pick, the seventh high school player taken in the draft.
Baseball America ranked Cecchini as the team’s second-best prospect coming into the season. BA called him, “a strong fundamental player” one whose “work habits and passion made him attractive to the Mets.” The other word bandied about most frequently was “polished.” Take all those things together and Cecchini sounds like the rare high school player who could move quickly through the system.
One problem with that plan, though, as the Mets decided to start Cecchini this year in Brooklyn, a short-season league that has yet to begin play. Essentially, the Mets have two clubs at this level, with Kingsport in the Appalachian League being the other. Cecchini played at Kingsport last year after signing and amassed 212 PA there before a late call-up to Brooklyn.
It’s not unusual for the Mets to have youngsters play one year in Kingsport and the next year in Brooklyn. Seven of the 20 hitters to play for Brooklyn in 2012 played at Kingsport the previous season, including 2011 top pick Brandon Nimmo. However, no one was claiming Nimmo to be polished when he was drafted, as he came from Wyoming, which did not have high school baseball.
Nimmo was a raw, toolsy player and the consensus was that if the Mets started him in a full-season league in 2012 that they would be treating him aggressively. There’s little doubt that the Omar Minaya-Tony Bernazard era Mets would have had Nimmo playing in the South Atlantic League last year. But the Sandy Alderson era Mets opted to go slow with Nimmo, a decision which surprised few.
Yet there was hardly a consensus on what to do with Cecchini.
Given the conventional wisdom, I assumed he would start 2013 in Savannah. However, 2011 Draft pick Philip Evans is the everyday shortstop in the South Atlantic League for the Mets. Evans was given an above-slot bonus when he signed and was widely regarded as a steal when the Mets got him. But his pro career has not been impressive up to this point. In 578 PA as a professional, Evans has a .608 OPS, including this year’s .492 mark in Savannah.
Since they had had high hopes for Evans, there seems to be a justification for the Mets to slow play things with Cecchini. It’s the same rationale that has 2012 college draft pick Kevin Plawecki playing in the South Atlantic League when a strong case could be made for him to be in the Florida State League considering his age and draft status. But the Mets gave that spot to Cam Maron, who at least had a strong 2012 year in the SAL. Unfortunately, Maron is having equivalent success to Evans this year, as he sports a .594 OPS in the FSL.
Let’s see how the Mets handling Cecchini compares to how the other teams in MLB handled their first-round high school picks from 2012. As mentioned earlier, there were 17 prep players taken on the first round last year and 12 of those are currently playing in a full-season league. All six of the high school players taken ahead of Cecchini are in either the Lo-A South Atlantic or Midwest League, except for Addison Russell, who is in the Hi-A California League.
The first two high school players taken after Cecchini are also in full-season leagues, with Courtney Hawkins playing in the Hi-A Carolina League. Lucas Giolito is not in a full-season league but he’s also on the shelf after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Blue Jays are taking a similar tack to their 2012 first-round pick as the Mets, as they will start D.J. Davis in the short-season Northwest League, despite Davis raking to the tune of a .926 OPS last year in the short-season Appalachian League.
There were six high school players taken after Davis and four of those started 2013 in a full-season league. Stryker Trahan (pick #26) and Ty Hensley (#30) are the remaining two not to be playing Lo-A or higher at the start of the 2013 season.
Given how other clubs treat their first-round high school picks, it’s hard to look at what the Mets are doing with the polished Cecchini as anything other than being extremely conservative. Perhaps it is the 100% correct move to make with this particular individual, a position that those of us from afar cannot possibly know.
There’s no one right way to handle league assignments and promotions for minor league players. My preferred way would be to assign the club’s top prospects to the level they are ready to handle and fill in around them with other players. But with Cecchini and Plawecki, the team’s top two picks of the 2012 Draft, the Mets have seemingly taken an opposite approach.
Perhaps the FSL for Plawecki and the SAL for Cecchini would have been too aggressive. But given how other clubs handled their high school picks, it’s hard to agree with that assessment. Additionally, of the 15 college players taken above Plawecki, 12 started this year in Hi-A or above.
So, what should we make of all this? It seems there are three answers, of which any or all could apply.
1. The Mets are using a conservative approach, deferring young top prospects to other players in the system.
2. These individual players, while talented, are not as advanced as hype would have you believe.
3. These prospects are just not that good.
While you ponder which one of the above you think should carry the most weight, my belief is that Alderson cleaned up in the 2011 Draft but the 2012 Draft was not quite so hot. Here’s hoping that their 2013 first-round pick will open next season in the SAL if it’s a high school player and in either the FSL or Eastern League if it’s a college pick.