With Kingsport being no more than 40-minutes away from Elizabethton, the Mets showed up 30-minutes before game time robbing me of a chance to see batting practice and infield/outfield. Nonetheless, I’m not sure it would have mattered as 2012 Mets first round pick Gavin Cecchini was penciled in the lineup as designated hitter and the rest of the starting lineup was short on prospects beyond diminutive second baseman Branden Kaupe. I also lucked into three innings of Akeel Morris, a relief pitcher rumored to have big velocity who fell apart early on as a starter before reeling off 16 innings of two earned run ball to end the season.
Gavin Cecchini: Not seeing him play shortstop certainly limits the look, but I’d be remiss to not mention his hit tool was better than I was expecting. From watching the video, it’s easy to see the swings weren’t pretty at times and pitch selection is still a work in progress. However, the couple of controlled swings he put on fastballs up in the zone both resulted in hard barrel contact. As his balance and weight shift improve, so should his pitch selection and consistency. Cecchini is unlikely to become an impact bat due to lack of power, but true shortstop prospects are difficult to come by so he does not have to be. In Savannah, I’ll receive a long look at him on defense and update the profile at that point.
Branden Kaupe: Jose Altuve was the first name to come to mind when seeing Kaupe take the field. The diminutive second baseman has similar quickness and thickness through the upper half. A switch hitter, the 18-year old has excellent bat speed from both sides of the plate and appeared to have an advanced understanding of how to work counts to his favor. He also showed 55 speed from the left side by running a 4.15 home-to-first time and could likely match that from the right side as well. Plus, he showed solid range at second base. With a .173/.358/.195 line in the Appalachian League, it would be easy to dismiss Kaupe. He’s a nice player though and a steal compared to the average fourth rounder I see in person.
Akeel Morris: Maybe the most perplexing arm in the lower levels of the system, Morris was considered a potential break through prospect entering the 2012 season. As a starter, he floundered finishing with a 12.90 ERA over six starts before being transitioned to the bullpen. As a reliever, his 1.13 ERA including a 27/10 K/BB ratio in 16 innings was a remarkable turnaround. In game action, Morris’ fastball was 90-93 MPH with improved command throughout the outing. The velocity was less than I was expecting and his max effort delivery, combined with a tendency to short arm the baseball definitely speaks to a bullpen profile. His breaking ball was a tight, 77 MPH curve which benefited from his short arm action. As a two-pitch reliever, he has some potential, but his days as a starter are likely over.
In all, the Kingsport roster was void of impact talent from the players I saw. Tomas Nido would have been a good “get”, but he was not in the starting lineup which was disappointing. With the Mets promoting at a much slower rate than under the previous regime, it might be 2014 before I have the opportunity to see this group again.