Super Starters: Jackie Bradley Jr. & Garin Cecchini

There’s a difference between a superstar and a super starter. And it remains to be seen whether or not Garin Cecchini and Jackie Bradley Jr can be absolute phenoms at the big league level. But for two straight years, the Salem Red Sox have undoubtedly possessed the Carolina League’s best hitter over the first quarter of the season.

Exactly one year ago today, sitting in the same radio booth at Five County Stadium where I’m currently typing now, I crafted this blog post: “Digging Deeper into Jackie Bradley Jr.’s Ridiculous Numbers”

That was May 14, 2012, and I encourage you to check it out. It’s a very fun re-read. I think my favorite part was how he owned an amazing .507 on-base percentage, while he also led the league with five sacrifice flies, an ever-productive and appreciated contribution that nonetheless hurts one’s OBP. At the time of the post, Jackie had reached base in 26 consecutive games.

2012_bradley_jackie-199x300

Jackie Bradley Jr.

On May 14, 2012, Jackie Bradley Jr. was hitting .389 (44-for-113) in 31 games, with 15 extra-base hits (10 doubles, one triple, three HR), 26 walks (to 20 strikeouts), with 11 steals in 14 tries. He had scored 32 runs and driven in 25.

On May 14, 2013, Garin Cecchini is hitting .372 (45-for-121) in 33 games, with 22 extra-base hits (13 doubles, four triples, five HR), 20 walks (to 18 strikeouts), with 11 steals in 15 tries. He has scored 25 runs and driven in 23.

2013 Red Sox Minor League HeadshotsSunday, March 10, 2013. (Brita Meng Outzen/Boston Red Sox)

Garin Cecchini

Like JBJ last year, Cecchini also overcame a rough patch at the very beginning. JBJ began 2-for-16, while Cecchini was 0-for-7 in his first two games. But after two hitless nights, Cecchini registered multiple hits in four straight, quickly booming his average to .435 after six games. In 33 games overall, Cecchini has multiple hits 16 times. In five others, he has reached base multiple times without recording multiple hits.

Garin’s been an equal opportunity masher, hitting .375 against lefthanded pitching (as a lefty hitter) while hitting .371 against righties. His greatest stretch was a 14-game period when he reached base at least twice in every game, compiling 24 hits and 15 walks over 14 games from April 18 to May 4, giving him a .471 average and a .591 OBP during this time.

And as far as intangibles go, Cecchini has a comparable charisma to JBJ. They both love to play and have fun chirping at teammates in a way that inspires, motivates, and creates a contagious energy. As a fortunate bystander who gets to observe the special development in the present, it is also fun to ponder when Red Sox Nation will fully awaken to the reality of realized potential in the future.

Now, allow me a small tap on the break peddle. Cecchini’s defense at third base is nowhere near the level of Jackie Bradley Jr.’s majestic outfield navigation, and JBJ’s lightning-in-a-bottle spring training may have masked some remaining developmental needs that still exist. But at the same time, fans across he country were able to catch a glimpse of the Jackie’s incredible promise, something that we saw in the Carolina League through the first quarter of the 2012 season.

Thirty-five games into 2013, Garin Cecchini has created a similar enthusiasm, producing at a statistical clip that is as outrageous as it is, eventually, unsustainable. A great future awaits, but for now we can simply enjoy the present.

*****

After a frustrating four games in Myrtle Beach from a team perspective, the Salem Sox will take aim at the Carolina Mudcats, Cleveland’s Advanced-A affiliate. While Terry Francona has the big league club as hot as anybody (good for Tito!), the Mudcats are struggling, having lost 22 of their last 30 since starting the year 5-2. Salem has a six-game homestand looming starting this Friday, and it sure would be nice to snag a series win here in North Carolina before returning to the Roanoke Valley this weekend.

Today’s game notes are below, and the first pitch tonight comes your way at 7:15 PM on ESPN Radio, AM 1240 WGMN Roanoke and online at salemsox.com.

UPDATED: Here’s tonight’s lineup

photo

Talk to you soon,

Evan

*****

May 14, 2013 7:15 PM Salem Red Sox (15-20) vs. Carolina Mudcats (13-24) Game #36

Five County Stadium                          Zebulon, NC                    Road Game #21

Probable Starters: RHP Mike Augliera (3-0, 3.67) vs RHP Cody Anderson (4-1, 2.93)

One Down, Three to Go: Well, the Salem Sox have proven to be a streaky group through 35 games, exactly one-quarter of their 2013 season. But the first 25% finished in rough fashion for the Red Sox, losing six straight to drop from 15-14 and just two games out of first place to 15-20 and eight games back. The Red Sox began the season 4-8 in their first 12 games, but then won eight of ten to rise into second place. But since reaching the high-water mark of 12-10, the Sox have lost 10 of their last 13, including six in a row. This 13 game stretch has included five one-run losses and three walk-off defeats. Salem last lost seven straight from August 9 to August 15 last season. The Salem Sox haven’t lost eight straight since July 25-August 1 2009, during year #1 of the Red Sox affiliation. Interestingly, that’s the longest losing streak of the five-year-old affiliation, and Salem went on to win the Southern Division title and advance into the Mills Cup finals just over a month following that eight-game skid.

Muddled Mudcats: While Salem is scuffling heading into the series with Carolina, the homestanding Mudcats may be in more dire straights. The Indians affiliate is also coming a four-game sweep, dropping four consecutive decisions at home to Lynchburg over the past four days. While Carolina swept Salem in a doubleheader at LewisGale Field last Thursday to take two out of three in that series, the Mudcats have still lost 14 of their last 17 overall. Since starting the season 5-2, the Mudcats have gone 8-22 in their last 30. Carolina’s pitching has struggled most, giving up 37 runs in their four-game set against Lynchburg.

Power, Then Plummet: Salem second-baseman Sean Coyle was as hot as any hitter in the league for a stretch. He hit eight home runs in 12 games from April 12 to May 4, despite missing a bunch of time with a thumb injury. And while he has not homered in his last seven games, he still leads the league with nine jacks on the season, tied with eight others for tenth-best in all of minor league baseball. But in his last seven games, Coyle has seen his average dip from .324 to .242, a 82-point plummet as a result of his current 1-for-28 skid. Coyle still is second in the league in slugging percentage (.586), trailing only teammate Garin Cecchini. Although he has nine homers, he only has 18 RBI, largely a result of the fact that eight of his nine homers have been solo shots.

Salem’s Star: While the Red Sox went just 1-5 as a team last week, Salem third-baseman Garin Cecchini was still named the Carolina League Player of the Week for his individual performance. Cecchini hit .389 (7-for-18) with three walks and one HBP for a .500 OBP during his six-game week. No one in the league had more extra-base hits than Cecchini, who delivered three doubles and two home runs. The Louisiana-native is now a two-time Carolina League Player of the Week recipient, having won the award for the week of April 22-28 as well. For the season, Cecchini’s .373 average is far and away the best in the league, 39 points better than Carolina’s duo of Francisco Lindor and Jerrud Sabourin, who are tied for second at .333. Cecchini’s also number one in doubles, OBP, slugging, and extra-base hits.

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