PAWTUCKET – Much has already been said about Garin Cecchini’s ability to understand the strike zone and his propensity to get on base. Case in point, the PawSox third baseman entered Sunday ninth in the International League in on-base percentage (.415) while his .329 batting average has him just outside the top 10.
For a player experiencing his first foray into Triple-A baseball, Cecchini seems to be adjusting just fine. For comparison purposes, Kevin Youkilis, the former Red Sox infielder who some in the organization believe the 23-year-old Cecchini resembles at this point in time, posted an on-base mark of .295 in 32 games with Pawtucket in 2003. Sunday marked Cecchini’s 22nd contest in Class AAA.
While the idea of labeling a player an on-base machine may seem lofty praise, it’s something that Cecchini is not striving to be strictly known as. Seeking to become regarded as a complete player has been ingrained in his mind since as far back as a seven-year-old growing up in Louisiana.
It’s not just about offense or defense with Cecchini. Understanding and having an appreciation for the finer points, he gives all the credit to his parents, Glenn and Raissa. Glenn is the head coach of the baseball team at Alfred Barbe High School – located in Lake Charles, LA – with Raissa on the staff as an assistant.
“You can tell he comes from a baseball background and just the way he goes about his business, he wants to be a complete player. He’s hungry and I think that’s the biggest thing with him,” said Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles. “He’s the first one to the ballpark every day and he lights up a room. He wants to become a quality major-league ballplayer.”
In two instances at McCoy Stadium last week, Cecchini served notice that he holds every facet of the game in high regard. Below is a recap of the steps he took in producing successful outcomes.
Pawtucket trailed Buffalo, 3-2, in the sixth inning, though the PawSox had two runners in scoring position – Bryce Brentz at third base and Cecchini at second. Both were treated to a free base after Bisons reliever Rob Rasmussen uncorked a wild pitch with Christian Vazquez standing in the batter’s box.
A second gift came when Rasmussen threw the ball to the backstop on ball four. Brentz easily scored the tying run, and when Buffalo catcher Erik Kratz delivered an off-target throw to Rasmussen, Cecchini pounced.
Going completely on instincts – Boles said he never told Cecchini to stay put – Cecchini broke for home and scored what proved to be the deciding run in Pawtucket’s come-from-behind 4-3 victory.
“I stepped on third and saw they overthrew it. The middle infielders weren’t backing up at the time. I kind of knew that because they had kind of gotten a little lazy on the throw. I just knew I could take advantage of it,” recalled Cecchini, noting that he would have scored either way due to the umpire calling obstruction on Bisons third baseman Steve Tolleson. “It was a 3-3 ballgame and what kind of goes through your mind is that you want to get ahead and try to make another throw. Put a little pressure on the defense because that’s what baserunning is. I tried to put pressure on them and it worked.
“I think my parents drove home the importance of taking baserunning seriously because with so many players coming up, it’s either hitting, hitting, hitting or defense, defense, defense. Baserunning is kind of put to the side,” Cecchini stressed. “They ingrained in me at a young age that baserunning can win or lose games. Since then I’ve been brought up to say, ‘I’m going to be the best baserunner that I can be.’ I know I can take my game to the next level being a good baserunner and winning games.”
As Cecchini demonstrated last Monday against Buffalo, having a good feel on the base paths can make a world of difference in the outcome of a game.
With the rehabbing Will Middlebrooks in town, Cecchini understood where he ranked on the pecking order. However, that doesn’t mean Cecchini treated the break as a chance to kick back and relax.
“Any time I have a scheduled off day, I’ve always been taught to get your timing down with the pitcher,” said Cecchini. “I can kind of do that in my brain and act like I’m up there facing the pitcher and take at-bats with the other guys.”
Cecchini replaced Middlebrooks in the eighth inning of last Wednesday’s contest against Rochester. He admitted that he didn’t know how many at-bats Middlebrooks was in line to receive, though he knew he needed to stay sharp in the event Middlebrooks wasn’t scheduled to play all nine innings.
“I started getting ready in the clubhouse by stretching and getting on the elliptical. I wanted to keep my legs warm just so I can stay healthy and not get hurt,” Cecchini pointed out.
Though he appeared at third base during the top of the eighth, Cecchini was technically hitting in Middlebrooks’ spot in the lineup. The game was tied at 1-1 when Cecchini walked to the plate with two runners aboard. Rochester manager Gene Glynn opted to play the matchup game as he summoned hard-throwing southpaw Edgar Ibarra to face the left-handed Cecchini.
Having faced Ibarra the previous week at Rochester, Cecchini played over the nine-pitch encounter in his mind as he watched the lefty complete his warm-up tosses.
“I had enough of a sample size of what his slider did and the zones he threw in,” said Cecchini.
Added Boles, “There’s a lot of homework involved with him and he studies his craft. He’s a guy who can retain a lot of information.”
A slider is what Cecchini hammered to center field for a two-run double that propelled the PawSox to a 3-1 victory.
“Mentally, my timing was there all night,” Cecchini proudly stated.
Cecchini’s baseball IQ was a point of discussion with Red Sox personnel prior to getting drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.
“They asked, ‘How did I get those instincts?’” he said.
Answer: From parents who made sure there’s no such thing as shortcuts.
“It’s something that I was brought up with,” says Cecchini about an all-encompassing approach that went a long way in the PawSox capturing two recent victories.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter at @BWMcGair03