High-SchoolBaseball: Barbe

The kid with all the promise sat glued to the bench. His eyes were fixed upon the baseball diamond, watching his teammates play the game he had loved all his life.

Gavin Cecchini never imagined his freshman year would go this poorly.

Prior to high school, he was a Little League star, leading his Lake Charles, La., squad to the 2006 Little League World Series. And he helped the team to its only win there by fanning seven and collecting two hits against Columbia, Mo.

Cecchini couldn’t wait to get to Barbe (Lake Charles, La.), where his dad, Glenn, was the head coach and his brother, Garin, was the star shortstop. And he was living the dream early on by earning the starting job at second base.

But Gavin struggled at the plate and he carried that over to the dugout after each at-bat, often throwing his bat and helmet in disgust.

Finally, his father had enough. Glenn’s philosophy is to always respect the game, and Gavin wasn’t doing that. So he found a seat on the bench for seven games.

“For the first time in his life, he was struggling,” said Glenn, who’s in his 25th year at the helm of the Buccaneers. “You’re always tougher on your own kids, but he’ll never do that again. He came back a lot stronger.”

“I was just immature,” added Gavin. “If I had an 0-for-4 game, I treated it like I wouldn’t have another at-bat. Instead of thinking about the game, I was thinking about the last mistake I made. I think that was the best thing that happened to me. I wouldn’t be the player I am today if he didn’t bench me.”

What Gavin has become is the nation’s No. 8 prospect in the ESPN 100 and a projected first-round pick in this year’s MLB draft. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound shortstop, who signed with Ole Miss, capped his high school career by leading the Bucs to the Class 5A state title on May 13, propelling the team to the No. 34 spot in the POWERADE FAB 50 as of press time. It was the school’s sixth state title overall, all with Glenn as head coach.

Gavin finished the year hitting .413 with a .527 on-base percentage, seven homers, 32 RBIs and 31 stolen bases. He was particularly impressive during the playoffs, batting .467 with a .566 OBP. And he did all that with a wooden bat after switching from the BBCOR aluminum model he was using early in the season.

Winning state was a dream come true for Gavin, who grew up around the tradition-rich Barbe program with the field serving as his second home. Not only was his dad the coach, his mom, Raissa, served as an assistant coach for 17 years and is now the team’s scorekeeper.

“He was a bat boy when he was 4,” said Glenn. “It was a way of life for him. He did his homework in the office and then played catch with the older guys.”

Gavin looked up to star Bucs like Joe Lawrence, who was a first-round pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1996. But he especially revered his brother.

“He tried to mimic him,” said Raissa. “Garin is such a good role model.”

“He’s not only my brother -- he’s my best friend,” said Garin, now a third baseman with the Greenville Drive, a Single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox in South Carolina. “We hung out every single day.”

I'm just playing my heart out, and whatever team drafts me, that's going to be one of the best decisions they will have ever made.

-- Barbe (Lake Charles, La.) senior shortstop Gavin Cecchini
Gavin couldn’t wait to play with his brother in high school and hoped to one day win a state title with him. He nearly got his wish as a freshman.

Following his benching, Gavin played his way back into the starting lineup and helped the Bucs to the Class 5A state semifinals, where they were edged by eventual state champion Northshore (Slidell, La.), 11-10.

While the brothers were upset, they figured they’d have another opportunity the following year. But that went out the window just 14 games into the 2010 season when Garin tore the ACL in his right knee.

“I took it really hard,” said Gavin. “I usually don’t get emotional, but I thought it might be the last time I’d ever get to play with him again. But I knew I had to put the team on my back.”

Gavin took over at shortstop for Garin, who ended up getting drafted in the fourth round by the Red Sox that June. He nearly willed the Bucs to a state crown, but once again they fell short of their goal, losing by one run to Lafayette (La.) in the semis.

Barbe lost to Jesuit (New Orleans), 2-1, in last year’s quarterfinals, though Cecchini was named Gatorade State Player of the Year. He was the third Barbe player to earn the honor, joining Lawrence and Carmen Angelini.

This past fall, Gavin led the USA Baseball 18U National Team to the gold medal at the COPABE 18U/AAA Pan American Championships in Colombia. He hit .500 with 17 RBIs in 15 games.

“He was very confident in his ability on the field and was very competitive, which are two great traits to have,” said Team USA coach and former New York Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius. “He was one of the go-to guys on the team. Guys responded to him.

“He has that blue-collar mentality, and he brought it to the park with him every day.”

Gavin Cecchini
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarGavin Cecchini led the Southwest to its only win at the 2006 Little League World Series.
Gavin carried that mentality over to his offseason workouts, albeit a little too much. He trained three times a day, from taking BP to lifting weights to pulling tires. The regimen sapped all the energy from his body, though, and his hamstrings were so tight that he had to miss the first six games of his senior season.

“It was a lesson learned,” said his father. “He realized that more isn’t always better.”

After the time off, Gavin returned with a purpose. For starters, he wanted to prove to the upwards of 60 scouts who attended his games that he was worthy of a first-round pick.

“I’m just playing my heart out,” he said, “and whatever team drafts me, that’s going to be one of the best decisions they will have ever made. I’m not trying to come out as cocky, but I know teams are going to pass on me. All I know is the teams that pass on me are going to regret it.”

Gavin has always had an unwavering belief in himself on the field. And he was especially confident that Barbe would capture the state crown this year.

When the Bucs had finished celebrating their 3-2 win over Archbishop Rummel (Metairie, La.) in the Class 5A final, Gavin sought out his father, who had joined his team in the celebratory dog pile. The pair hugged each other and cried, knowing this would be the last time they’d share a moment like this again.

And it made Gavin’s benching his freshman year seem like a lifetime ago.

“It’s the best feeling ever, especially when you’re playing for your dad and it’s your last game and you go out with a bang,” said Gavin. “When we made that last out, it was like all the blood, sweat and tears I put in finally paid off.”

The Starting Nine: Preseason look

February, 29, 2012
The Starting NineMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP Images, Scott Kurtz/ESPNHS(From left to right) Byron Buxton, Lucas Giolito and Joey Gallo are the three top preseason candidates for The Diamond Gem, the title bestowed upon the nation's most outstanding baseball player based on on-field performance.

With spring right around the corner, ESPNHS has begun its search for the nation’s top high school baseball player, regardless of school year and based solely on on-field performance.

Every two weeks, we’ll rank the nine players in order in The Starting Nine. And at the end of the season, whoever is in the top spot will be crowned The Diamond Gem, our award given to the nation’s most outstanding player.

So to kick it off, we give you our preseason Starting Nine. Leading the way is Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) senior Lucas Giolito, the nation’s top right-handed pitcher who dominated opposing hitters last season and has looked very much like an early first-round pick in the early going this year.

The Starting Nine: Preseason

1. Lucas Giolito, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
RHP, Senior
Why he’s here: The nation’s top right-hander, Giolito went 9-0 last year with a 1.00 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. He also pitched four complete games, three of which were shutouts.

2. Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
1B/3B/RHP, Senior
Why he’s here: The top player on the top team in the POWERADE FAB 50, Gallo hit .471 last year with 25 homers and 78 RBIs while leading Gorman to its sixth straight state title. He also was 3-1 on the bump with a 1.12 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 18.2 innings.

3. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
OF, Senior
Why he’s here: The nation’s top outfielder and potential top 10 pick in June’s MLB draft flirted with the .600 mark last season (he finished hitting .594) and clubbed 10 homers while driving in 48 runs.

4. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
RHP/SS, Senior
Why he’s here: The hard-throwing right-hander (he’s hit 100 mph on the radar gun) went 5-2 with a 1.71 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 45 innings last season for the Class 4A state runner-up. He also hit .422 with seven homers and 24 RBIs.

5. Kayden Porter, Spanish Fork (Utah)
RHP/OF, Senior
Why he’s here: Porter picked up ESPNHS National Junior of the Year honors last year after leading Spanish Fork to its third straight state title. He went 9-1 with 85 strikeouts in 59 innings and hit .570 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs.

6. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
SS, Senior
Why he’s here: Leader of Louisiana powerhouse picked up Gatorade State Player of the Year honors last season after hitting .548 with 10 homers, 41 RBIs and 32 stolen bases.

7. Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
LHP, Senior
Why he’s here: The nation’s top lefty, Fried went 7-3 with a 1.31 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 69.2 innings at Montclair Prep (Van Nuys, Calif.). He transferred to Harvard-Westlake after Montclair Prep cut its athletics program.

8. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)
OF/LHP, Senior
Why he’s here: Carter, who starred on the Columbus team that won the 2006 Little League World Series, set a single-season school record with 22 homers last season to help Columbus earn its second straight state title and 11th overall. He also hit .467 with 47 RBIs and went 9-4 on the mound with a 2.33 ERA.

9. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
RHP/OF, Senior
Why he’s here: The leader of the No. 4 team in the POWERADE FAB 50, Hawkins led Carroll to a state title as a sophomore and the state semifinals last season. As a junior, he hit .410 with 15 homers, 49 RBIs and 22 stolen bases and was 10-2 with a 2.35 ERA and 81 strikeouts.

Another 25 players we’re tracking to begin the 2012 season

OF Albert Almora, Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.), Sr.
RHP Freddy Avis, Menlo School (Atherton, Calif.), Sr.
1B Keon Barnum, King (Tampa, Fla.), Sr.
RHP Ryan Burr, Highlands Ranch (Colo.), Sr.
C Zach Collins, American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), Jr.
C Clint Coulter, Union (Camas, Wash.), Sr.
OF David Dahl, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.), Sr.
RHP Ty Hensley, Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.), Sr.
3B/RHP Carson Kelly, Westview (Portland, Ore.), Sr.
LHP Nathan Kirby, James River (Midlothian, Va.), Sr.
C Jeremy Martinez, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), Jr.
C/SS/RHP Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas), Sr.
OF/RHP Ty Moore, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), Sr.
3B/OF Mitch Nay, Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.), Sr.
1B/RHP Matt Olson, Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.), Sr.
3B Rio Ruiz, Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.), Sr.
SS Addison Russell, Pace (Fla.), Sr.
RHP Lucas Sims, Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.), Sr.
LHP Matt Smoral, Solon (Ohio), Sr.
1B/RHP Jake Thompson, Rockwall-Heath (Heath, Texas), Sr.
RHP/OF Keegan Thompson, Cullman (Ala.), Jr.
C Stryker Trahan, Acadiana (Lafayette, La.), Sr.
LHP Hunter Virant, Camarillo (Calif.), Sr.
RHP Walker Weickel, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.), Sr.
OF/LHP Jesse Winker, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.), Sr.