2080 Prospect Spotlights: AFL Edition (Week Three)

Gavin Cecchini - Scottsdale Scorpions - 2016 Arizona Fall League (Bill Mitchell)

Feature Photo: Gavin Cecchini, SS, Mets

This week, Dave DeFreitas and Mark Shreve take a look at two National League relievers who could see action with their big league club in 2017, Mets prospects Gavin Cecchini (SS) and Champ Stuart (CF), and Mariner’s 20-year-old lefty Luiz Gohara.

DeFreitas has also updated 2080’s Report Library, and Alec Dopp is pouring fresh AFL video into our Prospect Video Library, as the action from the Arizona Fall League continues.

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2080 Prospect Spotlights – Arizona Fall League


LogoMLBPITEdgar Santana, RHP, Pirates (Surprise Saguaros, Arizona Fall League)
Ht/Wt:  6’2”/180    B/T  R/R     Age: 24 yrs, 11m

If you were a Pirate’s fan and blinked this year, you may have missed the rapid ascension of Santana though the minors, as the 24-year-old sailed through three levels, and ended the year at Triple-A Indianapolis before being added to the Saguaros’ roster this fall.  And in his first appearance in the AFL, he made it pretty clear why, pounding the zone with a plus to double-plus fastball and above-average slider combination that generated four strikeouts and two soft hits in 2.2 innings of work on October 12, while throwing 26 of his 32 pitches for strikes.  And he hasn’t let up in his three appearances that followed, striking out 10, walking none, and allowing seven hits and no runs over 6.2 total innings.

Santana has a lean, unassuming frame, with rolled shoulders filling out an average-sized upper body, though he has a thicker, more developed lower half. He has smooth mechanics with a medium leg lift, a full arm circle that does not hide the ball much, and long arm action that is quick through his 3/4’s slot.  He generates good momentum to the plate with an average stride, with his momentum causing some slight head whack, and causing his plant foot to spin out as he finishes his delivery to the first base side.

His plus to double-plus fastball sat in the higher end of a 94-to-96 mph velo range (T97) in my 10/12 viewing, and he challenged hitters on both sides of the plate by spotting it inside with some run to the arm side, and using it to set up his slider, which has the makings of a plus pitch when the command is on.  He showed excellent feel for the offering, with 3/4 depth and sharp bite in the 86-to-88 mph range, and the pitch had some added deception to it in that it held its fastball look out of hand, and he worked it to both sides while staying in the lower third of the zone.  It was particularly effective in this view against lefties as a ball-to-strike pitch to the outside corner of the plate (lefties hit just .185 against him this year in 136 PA’s).  To righties, he was working the fastball to the outside corner, and burying the slider to both sides of the plate to get swing-and-miss.

By showing such improved command of, and confidence in, his two pitches, Santana is definitely reassuring the Pirates that his move up the ladder was justified, despite numbers suggesting that he was less effective as he advanced this year (BAA of .169 (High A), .216 (Double-A), and .328 (Triple-A), and WHIP of 0.67, 1.04, and 1.75 – though his Triple-A numbers were accumulated in just 16 innings of work). The AFL is a small sample size to gauge performance, and his lack of experience adds some risk to his profile.  But if he can prove that the command/control profile is here to stay, all that should stand in the way of a spot in the Pirates’ 2017 bullpen is an early-season return to Indianapolis to gain more confidence against advanced bats.  If he can do that, a call-up could be in the making before the All-Star break, where a  test in the ‘pen as a late-inning relief option for manager Clint Hurdle would be waiting. – Mark Shreve


LogoMLBNYMChamp Stuart, CF, Mets (Scottsdale Scorpions, Arizona Fall League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/185    B/T: R/R    Age: 24 yrs, 0m

Another kid the Mets are taking a look at this fall is speedy center fielder Champ Stuart.  Stuart spent his age-23 season split between High-A Port St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton.  Stuart got bumped to the taxi squad in the Fall League to make room for the addition of outfielder Tim Tebow, but should still get enough at-bats to give the Mets a better idea of what they really have going into the winter.  Stuart has a long, slender frame with a high waist and some fast-twitch actions and, wirey strength.  He has a pretty compact, level stroke and has more power than you would think just by looking at him, though it comes with some brutal swing-and-miss numbers in 2016 (30% K rate in 315 PAs at High A and 36% K rate in 203 PAs at Double-A).

Based on a short look at Stuart in early fall league action, speed is going to be his carry tool, where he is 3.89-4.08 (3.69 on a bunt)  HP-to-1B and maybe even better underway, where he can lengthen out his strides and really use his long legs.  However, speed doesn’t do much when you can’t make contact.  When he put the ball in play in 2016 he hit .351 across the two levels, but because of all the swing and miss, he only hit .265 at High A and .201 at Double-A.  On top of that, for a guy that slugged .349, he put up a 0.80 ground-ball to fly ball rate, which further weakens his ability to create any kind of offensive impact.

Defensively, Stuart has the tools to be an above-average to plus defender at a premium position.  He showed a good first step and was very comfortable when tested going straight back on a few balls during my AFL looks.  He also has a 55-grade arm.  So between his defensive abilities and 80-grade speed, it is conceivable to see Stuart in an OF-5 type role if he can get his strikeout rate down into even the low 20% range.  Stuart was 40-for-46 in stolen bases this past season, so couple that with above-average defense in center field and a Peter Borjous (RF, Phillies) type impact is not that much of a stretch.

The Mets obviously recognize the potential value here, and having him around Mets first-base coach Tom Goodwin (Scottsdale Scorpions’ manager) is probably part of their plan.  Going into 2017, Stuart will be old for his level at 24 but he only has 184 at-bats above High A.  Expect him to start 2017 back at Double-A Binghamton, and if he can make the adjustment to cut down on the swing and miss, he is the type of player that could provide value at the big league level at some point next summer.


LogoMLBSEALuis Gohara, LHP, Mariners (Peoria Javelinas, Arizona Fall League)
Ht/Wt:  6’3″/210     B/T: L/L    Age: 20 yrs, 3m

Gohara comes to the AFL as one of the youngest hurlers in the league, and after a second season of development between Short-Season A and Class A ball in the Northwest and Midwest Leagues, where he posted a combined 1.81 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over 13 starts, while striking out 81 and walking 23 over 69.2 innings of work

Originally signed by the M’s as an international free agent in August, 2012, Gohara ‘s erratic control issues have stayed with him in the AFL thus far, though the raw stuff is impressive.  In his 8.2 innings of work over five appearances, he is pounding the zone with mixed results – racking up 15 strikeouts against two walks, while also allowing 11 hits on 102 total pitches, 70 of which were strikes.

Gohara is a big man, with a large frame reminiscent of C.C. Sabathia (LHP, Yankees) that includes broad shoulders and a thick chest and lower half, though he is carrying extra weight around the belt and playing above his listed weight by 20-25 pounds at present.  Working from the first-base side of the rubber, his mechanics had some inconsistency to them, showing a more balanced finish with his slider, but a tendency to finish to the third base side when reaching back for velo on the fastball.  He has a full arm circle and small leg lift from the stretch, and he comfortably separates his hands and gets a big drive off the rubber into a 3/4’s arm slot, landing stiffly on his plant foot with moderate arm effort.  The stiff front side gives him solid downhill plane, and that, along with the angle he creates on the rubber, help play the stuff up, though his thick frame and long arm action seem to throw off his timing on occasion, which in turn throws off his command.

To-date, Gohara has been used exclusively as a starter, but in AFL action he’s only been used in relief over his first six appearances.  In the shorter stints, he was able to dial up his fastball mostly in the higher band of the 94-to-98 mph range, and hit 99 mph in my first look on 10/11, with enough downhill plane to change eye levels while flashing some arm-side run in the higher velo range, though with below-average command.   He challenged hitters aggressively with the offering up in the zone with some swing-and-miss success when commanded to the edges of the plate, but his misses leaked into the middle of the plate, leading to hard contact.

His slider, sitting 83-to-86 mph, looked to be a future above-average offering that was thrown with average command in these views, showing 3/4’s depth and hard bite that looked best when buried as a chase/putaway pitch, and with some added sweep at the higher velo range to get swing-and-miss.  He was able to subtract from it to throw it for strikes when he needed to, though I did make a note that he got away with some called strikes in the meatier part of the zone that more advanced hitters might have jumped on.  In two views of Gohara I did not see his changeup, which was probably more due to his aggressive approach in these short relief stints than anything else.

Gohara is a high-risk prospect in the truest sense of the word, and it’s easy to forget that he has yet to throw a pitch at the High A level.  He is a work in progress right now, and if anything, his AFL innings give him a better sense of what adjustments he’ll need to make to keep moving through the M’s system.  He’ll need to pay extra attention to his weight and overall fitness, and smooth out his mechanics to show that he can get the command up to at least an average grade, while developing his changeup as a third offering.  At 20 years old, the Mariners will show plenty of patience with Gohara’s development as a starter.   He shows in small spurts that he can be dominant when the control and command are on, and he’ll have a durable starter’s build if he can maintain a healthier weight and add some leaner muscle.  With a plus to double-plus fastball and future 55-grade slider that can both generate swing-and-miss, and plenty of time to develop his changeup and refine his mechanics, there’s a floor of a #4/5 starter in his future.  -Mark Shreve


LogoMLBNYMGavin Cecchini, SS, Mets (Scottsdale Scorpions, Arizona Fall League)
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/200    B/T: R/R     Age: 22 yrs, 10m

The Mets’ first-round selection out of high school in 2012, Cecchini’s offense came around a bit in 2015, hitting .317 with an OPS of .819 for Double-A Binghamton, and it carried over into a strong 2016 season that saw him improve to a .325 average and .838 OPS for Triple-A Las Vegas before finishing up with 6 at-bats in New York.  Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed is a good comparison body-and actions-wise. Like Ahmed, Cecchini has a pretty static setup and a deliberate stroke, but does have some fast-twitch strength through the wrists and forearms that lead to some carry into the gaps on his line-drives.  He has almost no load, but is direct to the ball and keeps the barrel in the zone.  He also makes consistent contact (11% K rate in 2016, down from 11.3% in 2015) and has a track record of getting on base (.390 OBP this year, up from .377 in 2015).  However, while he does make good contact, there is limited power projection even though the wirey frame suggests he might fill out a bit, and the majority of his extra-base damage is done to the pull field.  

So while he does have some offensive ingredients, his overall value takes a significant hit if he doesn’t stay at shortstop.  He’s a fringe-average runner, but he’s by no means a base clogger.  He will look to take the extra base, but is not a base stealer.  I think that he will maintain the good contact rate in the big leagues and still get on base at an above-average clip, but the separator will be the damage numbers, and whether or not he can maintain the type of extra base production he has shown the last two seasons.  I don’t see a ton more power coming from him, so  overall I believe he settles at below average in the power department.

Defensively he has plenty of room to improve after 33 errors at shortstop in 2016, up from 28 in 2015 and 27 in 2014.  He has average range, but he really has his hands get stiff when on the move and he has deliberate, straightline actions overall.  He does have some arm strength, and is a good athlete, but ultimately I see him fitting in more of an Infield-5/super-utility role and moving around rather than sticking as an everyday middle infielder.  

Wherever he ends up defensively, the bat is going to be the carry tool for Cecchini–and while he may not be the immediate answer to second baseman Neil Walker departing via free agency or next in line when shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera’s production falls off, his offensive skills could really impact the Mets if he can ultimately move around defensively. – Dave DeFreitas


LogoMLBARIJared Miller, LHP, Diamondbacks (Salt River Rafters, Arizona Fall League
Ht/Wt:  6’7 / 240  B/T  L/L  Age: 23 yrs, 1m

Miller jumped out of the gate in AFL action with an impressive early stat line of 16 strikeouts against a single walk and four hits over his first nine innings pitched, including eight in the 3.2 innings I was able to see in live views on October 11 and 14, both vs. the Peoria Javelinas.

He was converted to a relief role just this year, and even with four minor league promotions under his belt (beginning with Class A Kane County and ending with Double-A Mobile after a five-appearance stop at Triple-A Reno in August) he’s still thrown roughly half of his 2015 innings total (119.1 in 2015 vs. 61.1 this year).

An 11th-round pick of the Diamondbacks out of pitching factory Vanderbilt University, Miller lives down in the zone, and the approach has been working for him, with a 3.39 GO/AO ratio across four levels in 2016, though below-average control (BB/9 rate of 3.4/9) has been an issue.  He does get a monster share of strikeouts though,  (11.7/9), and he held opponents to a .169 BAA while giving up just three home runs (two during his stint in Reno) in 61.1 innings, so getting some more relief experience and cutting down on the walks was probably the goal of his AFL stint.

Miller creates some angle both with his six-foot-seven height and with his mechanics.  There are some moving parts to the delivery, with some shoulder tilt and slight spine tilt to the third base side clearing the way for a long arm action with a stab in the back that comes quickly through a high 3/4s arm slot with some head whack to-boot.  The high-effort actions are probably causing some of his control issues, but Miller showed the athleticism to keep them in sync and repeat them in these views, and those same actions can also make it tough to pick the ball up out-of-hand, so the delivery can work for him if he can improve on repeating it.

His fastball generally sits in the 91-to-93 mph (T94), though in his first outing he was more reliant on a cut version that was sitting 87-to-90 mph. Both versions play up to above-average offerings thanks to the downhill plane he gets to change eye levels, and he commanded both variations down in the zone for strikes to set up his slider and curveball, both of which looked to be average-or-better secondaries in these views.  The slider was sitting 82-to-85 mph in both views, and was his best breaking pitch, showing 3/4’s depth and bite out of a fastball plane, with the angle playing it up some.  He was confident using the pitch in any count, both for strikes when needed, and for put-away, and it also generated some swing-and-miss.  He did leave a couple hanging in the zone, which is something he won’t get away with at the higher levels, but overall it was an average offering that could get to above-average with improvement to the command.  He also showed good feel for his curveball, sitting in the 77-to-79 mph with an 11-to-5 plane and with big shape and late downer action, and also using it as a chase pitch.

With starting pitchers rarely throwing more than three innings in AFL action, there’s plenty of opportunity for Miller to gain some experience in his new role.  He has the ingredients to be a solid middle reliever for the D’Backs, though a little more proof-of concept seasoning and some stabilizing/fine-tuning of his mechanics at Triple-A Reno might be in order to start the year.  If he can show that the improvements seen in his AFL appearances are here to stay, he could be a candidate for a spot in the bullpen as soon as mid-year. – Mark Shreve