A recent Bleacher Report post listed the 2013 New York Met All-Prospect team. At shortstop, Bleacher Report tabbed Gavin Cecchini as this year’s Met shortstop of the future.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not intended to be a knock on Cecchini. As a number one draft selection, Cecchini automatically gains recognition as a highly regarded Met prospect. Even so, Bleacher Report’s selection of Cecchini and the statement saying he very well might become the Mets shortstop of the future seems a tad premature and completely overlooks the solid minor league resume under construction by Wilfredo Tovar.
I only caught the chance to watch Cecchini play one time for Brooklyn this summer. The kid is only 19-years old, so the upside is enormous. He hit .273/.319/.314 with eight doubles, no home runs, and 14 RBIs. That’s a decent start for a kid just getting his feet under himself as a professional baseball player.
On the other hand, I had the privilege of enjoying a summer of baseball watching Wilfredo Tovar play shortstop in Binghamton. The knock on Tovar is he’s a prototypical “good field – no stick” infielder. Good field simply doesn’t do Wilfredo Tovar’s defensive play justice. “Magnificent field” might be more like it. At 5 foot 10 inches tall and only some 160 pounds, Tovar doesn’t attract the attention commanded by many modern day baseball players.
That is until you see this kid field a baseball. Great hands and a quick first step allows him to move laterally, either deep into the hole between third and short or travel behind second base bag, help Tovar complete circus-like infield plays on an almost daily basis. The young shortstop has great arm strength with a lightning quick release and pin point accuracy that help make him an elite, major league ready, defensive shortstop.
Most telling this summer was the brief time Tovar was not in the B-Met line-up. Binghamton’s infield play suffered greatly when their dynamic defensive shortstop was not available.
The “no stick” rap on Tovar might also have holes. Yes, Tovar is a line drive, contact hitter, and is not a batter expected to give you extra base power pop at the plate. Yet, he is a gritty, consistent, dependable at-bat. In his last three season’s the 22-year old has walked to the plate 491, 411, and 441 times. During that time, the steady Tovar has hit a high of .270 in 2012 during a split season between St. Lucie and Binghamton and a low of .263 in Binghamton this summer.
Tovar’s .263 batting average in 2013 is a bit deceiving. The B-Met shortstop got off to a horrid start in the batting box but battled back hitting a whisker under .300 after the All-Star break to raise his average over 35 points in the second half of the year.
Tovar is tough out, a kid who is also difficult to strike out. He fanned 53 times in High-A ball in 2011, 39 more times in 2012 in Double-A, and only 49 times in Binghamton this summer. Of the 49 Eastern League players who had 400 at-bats or higher, only two, Jose Ramirez and Giovanny Urshela, had fewer strikeouts than Tovar.
The Bleacher Report selection of Gavin Cecchini as the Met All-Prospect shortstop had to be based on the perceived tools and long range potential of the 19-year old. Clearly, on-field play this summer and a fair appraisal would ID Wilfredo Tovar as the 2013 All-Prospect shortstop.
Underrated, unsung, and almost unnoticed, Wilfredo Tovar profiles as a major league shortstop, especially if he can find a team built around great pitching with enough batting surrounding him to support his low power wattage hitting stats.
Whatever the case, unless the Mets go outside the system to find a major league shortstop, Tovar should be in the conversation determining who plays short in 2014.