When it comes to the Major League Baseball draft, the Red Sox have earned a reputation as an organization that isn’t afraid to take chances. When players fall due to signability concerns, the Sox are one of the teams generally comfortable ending the slide and moving forward with a win-some-lose-some mentality.
As a result they’ve gotten late first-rounders who would have gone higher otherwise (Daniel Bard), grabbed elite high schoolers midway through the draft (Lars Anderson, 18th round ’06), spent dearly on players who flamed out (Mike Rozier, ’04) and seen top players head back into the draft without a deal done (Matt LaPorta ‘06).
This year is no different, though one of the most notable players to fit that profile, fourth-round pick Garin Cecchini, is far more fascinating than a simple signability story. With Bryce Harper far and away the biggest name in the draft, the Red Sox were able to get their hands on the guy who outshone the Nationals’ first overall pick while the two were teammates this fall as representatives of the United States in an under-18 tournament in Venezuela.
In the eight-game tournament that yielded a gold medal for Team USA, Cecchini hit .333 with an impressive .529 OBP and .708 slugging mark while hitting sixth and seventh and playing left field. By comparison, Harper hit .294 with a .375 OBP.
“It was the best experience ever,” Cecchini says of the trip. “We had the top 20 high school players in the nation. We just talked baseball and got to go to a different country. … It was just a great time to watch great players play.”
A toolsy high school shortstop with ample experience at second base and outfield, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Cecchini is expected to play third base with defensive proficiency wherever he is next year, whether it be the Red Sox or LSU, where he is committed. He has been timed as fast at 6.73 seconds in the 60-yard dash and is a plus baserunner, having swiped 55 bases in his junior year.
A lefty hitter, he considers himself “selectively aggressive” in his approach to the plate, which explains the OBP. His Team USA coach sees him as a solid doubles hitter at the next level. He’s been around the highest level of baseball Louisiana has to offer his entire life. He was also believed by many to be a first rounder entering this season.
While there was no dropoff in production to scare teams away, a torn ACL in March and specific contract demands led to him being available in the fourth round.
While high-profile players insisting they get the money they want is nothing new to the Red Sox, the right knee, which has healed faster than expected to this point thanks to extra time put in at physical therapy, could play a significant role in determining whether the Sox pay the 19-year-old what the $1.75 million signing bonus he seeks before the league’s August 16 signing deadline.
When the Sox chose him with the 143rd overall overall pick last week, they did so with the belief that Cecchini would be healthy enough to play in games by early August, giving them a couple weeks of games to evaluate. But multiple sources (including the Cecchini family) have told WEEI.com that though he is already hitting and running, Dr. James Andrews has set his return date for actual games to September 1, two weeks after the deadline to sign.
It’s just one of the many interesting facets in the lifelong (literally) baseball career of Garin Cecchini.
HIS MOM THROWS A MEAN BP
Projectable as a leadoff hitter or, perhaps more appropriately, a middle-of-the-order guy, Garin Cecchini has some done crazy things on the baseball diamond in his life. Between high school and summer ball, he stole home seven times in ’09. His 69 runs as a sophomore were and still are the most in a single season in the history of Barbe High School in Lake Charles, La.
Nothing should come new to him on the field, however, as baseball was the life he was born into. His parents, Glenn and Raissa are both successful coaches at Barbe, where Garin and many draft picks before him played.
Glenn has coached at Barbe since 1987, four years before Garin was born. Under Glenn, Barbe has won five state championships, the most recent coming in 2008, when Garin was a sophomore. Glenn and Raissa co-wrote “101 Championship Baseball Drills.”
Speaking with Glenn, you get the feeling you’re talking to every player, manager, general manager, and scout that’s ever lived. And that’s just the head coach.
“You don’t see many moms throwing batting practice to a team,” Garin said of his mother, who has served as an unofficial assistant coach at Barbe over the last 24 years. “We actually make a joke that she’s a better coach than my dad. I think they’re both the same coach though. God blessed me with the upbringing of Barbe baseball and I think that will really help me in my future career. “
“You know when you always thank your mom?” Glenn asked. “These kids [Garin and younger brother Gavin, now a sophomore and top prospect in the 2012 draft] can really thank their mom because she’s thrown BP. All the scouts will tell you if you ask professional scouts. She throws great BP and she’s a tremendous athlete. “
Raissa has gone to several national clinics in becoming the coach she is today. Proficient in today’s technology as it relates to sport, Raissa uses RightView Pro to match up Barbe’s hitters with major league hitters. Comparing their players’ swings with those of Albert Pujols and Dustin Pedroia is all in a day’s work.
“It’s been a way of life,” Glenn says. “When they were old enough -- I’m talking about when they could walk -- we would bring them to the field because both of us were coaching. They would just hang out and we’d have people drop them off from school at the baseball field. They would do their homework at the field.”
Garin and Gavin would finish their homework and be rewarded in their favorite way: by playing catch and taking batting practice with the players they looked up to.
“It was like how they call it a gym rat -- they were baseball rats,” Glenn said. “They grew up at the baseball field.”
Looking back on it, Garin sees it exactly as his father described. A year-round commitment to baseball, and proximity to a program described by Baseball America as a high school powerhouse that has produced more than a dozen draftees, has made him the dedicated player he is today.
“I had a great upbringing,” Garin said. “I was always around the field and really loved the game. It was just a great, great thing for me to always be around the field around those players, asking them questions when I was seven years old and listening to what their answers would be.”
AN EMAIL LED HIM TO THE SOX
Perhaps it was that lifetime around the game that instilled Cecchini with his respect for those who work in the game. Not one of the 27 major league scouts to step foot in his family’s home did so without receiving a hand-written letter thanking them for considering him.
He may be young, but he appreciates and respects the process. That’s why he didn’t want to waste anybody’s time or draft pick.
In a decision that he says was his own, Garin wrote an email to each major league team, notifying them that he would love to play in the majors but that he would head to LSU for two years (at which point he would be a draft-eligible sophomore) unless he was given the money he would have gotten had he not missed his senior year.
The email, which requested mid-first-round money from whomever drafted him, made him a pricey investment for a prospect coming off serious knee surgery. But even with the surgery, Cecchini believes that a career at LSU would make him at least as good a prospect come 2012 as he is now.
That stance was struck to ensure that teams understood that Cecchini was prepared to stand firm in negotiations. When other teams contacted the 19-year-old to see if he would sign for late first-round money, he did not budge.
“He’s already turned down a lot of money, which is kind of what scared me,” said Glenn Cecchini. “If I were him I would have signed -- there were other teams that offered him north of seven figures and he’s turned it down not once, but twice before the Red Sox drafted him. He turned down a couple other teams that offered him right around that area.
“I couldn’t have turned it down but it’s not my call and not my life,” he added. “My wife and I feel exactly the same way. We didn’t want to impose our will on Garin and say, ‘Hey this is what you need to do. If you don’t do it we think you’re making a mistake.’ That’s really not our place. He’s a smart kid. It’s his life. He’s going to have to go to LSU or go through the minor league system in Boston and that’s his choice.”
In the end, Garin Cecchini says, it was the Sox and Yankees that expressed the most interest in him. And it was Boston that pulled the trigger with its fourth-round pick, looking past his injury for the opportunity to acquire a player whose talent suggested he should have been gone by the fourth round.
HE’S KNOWN DR. JAMES ANDREWS SINCE HE WAS 12
There is no doubt in Glenn Cecchini’s mind that his son could have played quarterback at a major Division 1 school. He showed plenty of promise in his time playing football, but with the positives came a large negative.
Cecchini had so much damage to his throwing shoulder through football that he required rotator cuff surgery. Given the bright future in sports he had ahead of him, his family sent him to the best in the business in Dr. James Andrews.
Within two years, Garin had given up football, a difficult decision he made against his father’s advice, and focused on baseball. When his right knee injury struck in March, the Cecchinis went back to Alabama hoping for the same results.
“Dr. Andrews said that whether he plays for the Red Sox or goes to LSU, September 1st, he’s ready to go,” Glenn Cecchini said of his son’s timetable to return to games. “He’s definitely going to be able to play Instructional League and I think he’ll be good to go.”
Having now had two major surgeries, Cecchini looks to how his rehab has gone rather than the injuries themselves. Told by Andrews to do three days a week of physical therapy, Garin has been there six days a week, according to his father.
“I know [the ACL] is not going to stop me from where my goal is to be and that’s to be in the big leagues and win world championships,” said Garin Cecchini. “It’s not going to stop me and I can guarantee you that because I try to bust my butt to get it back just like I did my shoulder and now my shoulder is perfectly fine. I had the best doctor do it, and that’s why we went to him, to have no problems with it after. He couldn’t guarantee that, but he said he was going to do his best job to get me back just like he did my shoulder surgery.
“My knee right now feels like my other knee. I can do everything on it but I have to wait because I can’t sprint right now and I can’t play baseball because he’s got me on a protocol and he doesn’t want to re-tear it. It’s taking time. It’s a timetable [to] where I can start doing stuff.”
Garye LaFevers, who coached Cecchini and Team USA in the fall, can see where Garin is coming from when he speaks of his relentless drive. Calling him a “high-character player,” LaFevers doesn’t see any injury stopping Cecchini.
“He’ll come back at 100 percent and be 100 percent stronger,” LaFevers said. “He’s going to go through rehab and he’s going to do anything he can do to make himself physically stronger and I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be successful. If he’s not successful, it’s not going to be because he did not work at it. “
The commitment to his rehab is paying dividends. Told by the surgeon that he would get out of physical therapy what he put in, Cecchini said he promised himself and his family that he would do everything he could to get the best prognosis possible.
The result? A checkup so impressive that Andrews moved Cecchini’s date up one month.
“I went to Dr. Andrews and he said he’s never seen a knee progress as well as this one has,” Garin said. “The doctor has done so many of these procedures. He said there’s always pain, but I have not had pain at all when I jog, when I run, when I hit, nothing. It feels like my normal knee and it feels great.“
Even with that pace of his recovery, however, if Cecchini cannot play in a summer league before the signing deadline, the Red Sox may have to decide how much to commit to their fourth-rounder without being able to see him participate in anything more than batting practice and simulated competition.
This would not necessarily deter the Sox from signing him. The team has already scouted him extensively against advanced competition thanks to the Team USA performance. The club would be able to conduct medical evaluations before signing him, and could almost certainly see him take part in some baseball activities. As it stands, the last full season’s worth of stats, his junior year, are as follows: .402 average, 43 RBI, 52 runs, 10 doubles, six homers, and 55 stolen bases.
While the Sox place significant value on the summer follow process, that aspect of their draft operation is not simply to scout a player’s performance. The purpose of the team’s post-draft (and pre-signing deadline) operation is also to educate the player and family on why (and whether) a pro career makes more sense than college.
In dealing with Cecchini, that case will not be a slam dunk.
HE DOESN’T HAVE A FALLBACK PLAN, JUST TWO VIABLE OPTIONS
The Red Sox may not have much wiggle-room in negotiations with their fourth-rounder. If he is true to the email that he sent before the draft, the team’s decision may simply come down to paying him his quote or letting him go to college.
Cecchini’s motivation may go beyond money. In fact, the number that may come into play most in determining the infielder’s motives is 4.0, his perfect grade point average.
While he harbors ambitions of a baseball career, Cecchini also hopes to practice law one day. Getting two years of undergraduate studies out of the way while proving his health and making a case to be one of the top players in the 2012 draft (along with Gavin) would be an efficient way of helping both potential careers along.
When he says he wants to get his education, it may be more than a bluff.
“It’s definitely not a backup plan if we don’t work out a deal with the Red Sox,” Garin said of LSU. “I love school. I love to work. I want to be successful in life, no matter if it’s in baseball or if it’s in school, so LSU’s not a backup plan at all.”
That love of work is what drew Cecchini to the LSU baseball program. Offered scholarships and starting jobs by schools all over the country, Cecchini settled on the only school to not guarantee him an opening day job. Anticipating that he will one day compete for a job at the big league level, Cecchini saw no use in taking something handed to him at the college level.
“The reason why I really did commit to LSU is because of the great coaches of course, and the national championships and [winning], and they didn’t guarantee me a spot to play,” Garin said. “I was like, ‘You know what? I like that because I want to compete for a position.’
“That’s all I’ve done my whole life, is work for the stuff that I had and that’s why I am what I am today is that I had to work and I had to compete against other people to get what I wanted. And that’s how it’s going to be in pro ball, that’s how it’s going to be in life, that’s how it’s going to be everywhere. You’re going to have to compete and that’s what I love about it.”