SoxProspects: Cecchini finds his groove

Garin Cecchini is hard not to notice on a baseball field, no matter the circumstances.

You’ll hear him shouting back and forth with teammates during infield drills before games, and hours later he’ll still be calling encouragement to his pitcher from third base in a near-empty stadium during extra innings.

But this year with High-A Salem, after a solid if unspectacular full-season debut in 2012 with Greenville, Cecchini is making opponents, teammates and scouts alike take note of his bat -- and he’s doing it pretty much every day.

“His consistency is just unbelievable, really,” Salem second baseman Sean Coyle said of his teammate and high school friend Cecchini. “Every day, he feels the same. He doesn’t come out and say, 'Man, I’m feeling really good today,' and he never comes out and says, 'Man, I’m feeling really bad today.' "

That consistency -- Cecchini had at least one hit in 20 of his first 26 games -- earned him SoxProspects.com Player of the Month honors for April. In the first month of the season, he batted .392/.478/.709 with three home runs, 13 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases, which put him among the Carolina League’s offensive leaders and garnered national attention.

As of Tuesday, Cecchini is hitting .379/.467/.670 with four home runs -- matching his 2012 total with Low-A Greenville. Through 27 games, Cecchini has more walks (17) than strikeouts (16).

Cecchini, a fourth-round pick out of Barbe (La.) High School, attributes his success so far in 2013 to a simple understanding that if he puts himself in good situations at the plate, his abilities will allow good things to happen.

“I am seeing the ball well,” he said. “God has given me the ability to hit, and that’s the biggest thing that’s clicking for me is just trusting what He’s given me -- and trusting that I’m going to see the ball and get a pitch that I’m going to hit.”

In the past, he found himself jumping at the ball and swinging at pitchers’ pitches, not his own. Now, Cecchini said he tries to “not necessarily (go) deep into counts, but get a pitch that you can hit and drive with authority, and hit a line drive with backspin.”

By honing his selection and swinging at more hittable pitches, Cecchini has seen a spike in the power numbers that eluded him in a 2012 season where his four home runs seemed to loom larger than his impressive 38 doubles.

“He’s performed probably better than he expected so far in this early sample, and you’d think that he’d have a high ceiling based on what he’s done last year and the small sample this year,” Salem manager Billy McMillon said.

With Low-A Greenville in 2012, Cecchini hit .305/.394/.433 with 51 stolen bases and 46 extra-base hits. Though he’s an aggressive base runner who has 10 steals in 13 attempts this season, Cecchini profiles as an average runner.

Cecchini is listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds -- down from his listed weight at draft time of 215 pounds -- but his strong lower body provides leverage for his easy swing from the left side.

His bat speed allows him to let balls on the outer half of the plate get deeper into the strike zone, as evidenced by his display in Salem’s 10-3 loss last week to Wilmington. Against tough left-hander John Lamb, Cecchini sent the ball down the left field line in each of his first three at-bats, demonstrating his approach of letting outside pitches get to his back knee to hit them the other way.

In his first at-bat, Cecchini poked a ball down the line that rolled into the corner for a double. In the third inning, he hit the ball a bit harder, one-hopping the short bullpen wall in left field for his second double of the game. And on the first pitch of his at-bat in the sixth, Cecchini drove a ball into the bullpen for his third homer of the season. Lamb isn’t a hard thrower -- his fastball tops out at 86 m.p.h. -- but Cecchini timed him well and made better contact in each at-bat.

Cecchini didn’t have trouble acclimating to his new level initially, but the challenges in High A have begun as Salem repeats opponents in the eight-team Carolina League. Salem played two four-game series against Wilmington one week apart, and Cecchini saw pitchers making adjustments as his batting average in the season series crept towards .500.

“I got one fastball on the first pitch,” Cecchini said. “They’re throwing curveball, changeup, split-finger. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. They’re going to make adjustments to you, it’s a matter of how quickly you’re going to adjust to them, and then they’re going to make adjustments to you. How can you bounce back and make [the next] adjustment?”

But whether it’s the cat-and-mouse game at the plate or the tedious pregame grounders at third, that Cecchini spends his days and nights on a baseball field means he’s at least starting in the right place.

“I love everything about it,” he said. “I feel like if you’re not having fun playing baseball, then what are you going to have fun doing in life?”

Jon Meoli is a senior columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli.