Why not Garin Cecchini?

April 06, 2014 - 11:21 am

With Will Middlebrooks on the disabled list, the Red Sox elected to call up Brock Holt -- who likely will serve as a utility backup man, with Jonathan Herrera assuming primary duties at third base -- from Triple-A Pawtucket. In a vacuum, the decision makes sense. The Sox need a versatile infielder, preferably one on the 40-man roster, in a world where Herrera is at third. But of course, the Sox did have another option: third baseman Garin Cecchini. In a perfect world, calling up Cecchini is less than ideal. After all, the 22-year-old has played just three games above Double-A, having opened this season in Pawtucket by collecting five hits and walking twice in 11 plate appearances, good for a robust .556/.636/.667 line. That said, there have been other instances where inexperience in Triple-A has not prevented the Sox from promoting a position player, such as in 2009 when the team summoned Josh Reddick to the big leagues from Double-A, at the start of 2013 when Jackie Bradley Jr. opened the season in the big leagues without ever playing in Pawtucket, and when both Jacoby Ellsbury and Ryan Kalish were promoted with less than two months in Triple-A. And in the case of Cecchini, there is an offensive maturity and polish to his approach as a hitter that suggest a player capable of being fast-tracked to the big leagues. "I think there's a lot of guys in the organization who are comfortable with him and he's very dependable. We know he's going to give a quality at-bat. He doesn't have a lot of weaknesses. He's very competitive, strong-minded, has a will to compete. There's so many things where you have a comfort level with that type of hitter, and I think that's the reason he's been on a fast track here for the last year or two," Red Sox minor league hitting coordinator Tim Hyers said on Sunday's Minor Details podcast of whether Cecchini was close to big league ready. "He really is a student of the game. He gets the best return because he's such a smart hitter and he values a lot of things that are important at the plate: He's very disciplined, he has an incredible work ethic and he values seeing the baseball. When you put it all together, that's probably the most important thing -- seeing the baseball, concentrating. He tries to keep his eyes quiet, his head quiet and he really values not swinging at balls and trying to work counts, getting his pitch to hit. He has a lot of positives working his way. And he's such a smart hitter, too. He's a kid, he can filter a lot of information. He loves to talk hitting. ... He can take the information he needs to use and it's his information from then on. Some information that maybe doesn't pertain to him or is a better fit for someone else, he can wash it away and stick to his basics." Cecchini's offensive ceiling almost certainly exceeds that of Herrera or Holt. The switch-hitting Herrera is a career .265/.325/.332 hitter in the big leagues. Holt is a .250/.302/.298 hitter in 50 big league games (though he's posted a solid .307/.372/.408 line in the minors). Cecchini is coming off a year where he led full-season minor leaguers in OBP (.443) and he shows the ability to hit for high averages with tremendous OBPs. Moreover, whereas the left-handed Holt and the switch-hitting Herrera have both show So why isn't he in the big leagues as the Sox' everyday third baseman while Middlebrooks is out? First, there's the matter of inexperience against major league-caliber pitching -- though based on the team's recent history of call-ups, that's not dispositive. More significantly, given the transitional challenges that a player often faces in his first exposure to big league pitching, the team feels that a player needs to have other impact tools that would permit him to have value if he struggles at the dish. Reddick, Bradley, Ellsbury and Kalish all represented impact defenders. For now, the Sox feel that Cecchini does not have the third base defense of either Herrera or Holt that would permit him to be the right candidate for a call-up. He also lacks the roster versatility of those two. "While he'€™s had good at-bats there, there'€™s still some development defensively that'€™s taken place," said Sox manager John Farrell. "His time is coming but didn't feel like it'€™s right now." That said, Cecchini is making the sort of progress that the Red Sox would want to see so that he can be in a position to help in the future. He remains a work in progress, but the progress is evident. "I've made huge strides. Working with [Red Sox roving infield instructor] Andy Fox in the Arizona Fall League, [big league infield coach] Brian Butterfield, I feel 10 times better than I felt last season, and I felt pretty good last season, but I wasn't consistent the way I should be," Cecchini said in the spring. "I had to work, man. I had to work hard in the Arizona Fall League. I've worked hard every single day. I've never felt more consistent and better with my feet in my whole entire life than I feel right now." However, there's more polish to be gained, and so for now, Triple-A remained the appropriate environment for him. (It is also worth noting that there are potential service time implications regarding a call-up of Cecchini. If he spends more than 20 days in the minors this year -- Sunday marks day eight in the minors this year -- his potential free agency would be pushed back to no earlier than after the 2020 season. However, as the Sox showed with Bradley at the start of last year, they won't sacrifice fielding what they view as their best team solely based on potential service time implications six years down the road.) In some ways, the decision harbors similarities to the one the Sox faced last August, after the team traded Jose Iglesias to the Tigers. Then, the Sox went with Holt and Brandon Snyder at third base, at a time when both Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts were in Triple-A. The team did not feel that either Middlebrooks or Bogaerts was *quite* ready for a call-up, wanting to see both accomplish more in the minors. But three weeks into August, both were in the big leagues. Perhaps that represents a template that could be revisited for Cecchini if he puts the finishing touches on his defensive development.