Savannah, GA- The Sand Gnats, in conjunction with New York Mets, have announced the initial 2014 Sand Gnats roster. The Sand Gnats will defend the South Atlantic League title with the help of two first round draft picks: first baseman Dominic Smith and shortstop Gavin Cecchini. Joining them will be the core of the 2013 Class-A Short Season Brooklyn Cyclones pitching staff that held down a 2.79 ERA including starters Robert Gsellman, Miller Diaz, and Savannah native, John Gant.
John Gant will return to his roots in Savannah, Ga., after a breakout season last year with the Brooklyn Cyclones. The 6'3" righthander compiled a 2.89 ERA over 13 starts while striking out 81 batters, the most in New York Penn League behind only his Cyclones teammate Miller Diaz. Gant was born in Savannah, Ga., but moved to Wesley Chapel, Fla., as a youth, where he competed for Wiregrass Ranch High School in the competitive 7A district and was named the St. Petersburg Time's All-North Suncoast Pitcher of the Year. The Mets drafted Gant in the 21st round in 2011.
When 18-year-old Dominic Smith heads out to first base on opening night, he will represent the highest draft pick to play for the Sand Gnats since the team became a Mets Affiliate in 2007. The Los Angeles, Calif., product was drafted by the Mets in the first round (11th overall) out of Serra High School. The 6-foot-tall first baseman hit .301 with 17 extra base hits over just 51 games with the Gulf Coast League Mets and then, briefly, the Kingsport Mets. Smith's debut earned him a Sterling Award, an award issued by the Mets to the most valuable player for each of the organization's nine minor league affiliates. Mets Scouting Director Tommy Tanous has said that Smith, "wakes up in the morning, and he's ready to swing the bat."
Smith was ranked No. 92 on Baseball America's top 101 prospect list and No. 37 on Keith Law's ESPN top 100 prospect list. Smith is a proud alumnus of MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and Urban Youth Academy (UYA) initiatives. Upon being drafted, Smith credited much of his success to the youth programs. "They exposed me to so much baseball and got me to this point. Without them, I wouldn't even be here," Smith told MLB.com. Along with fellow 2013 first round pick and close friend Philadelphia Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford, Smith represents the newest generation of African American and minority players to succeed with the help of RBI and the UYA.
In 2012, Gavin Cecchini (CHA-KEE-NEE) was drafted by the Mets in the 1st round (12th overall) out of Alfred M. Barbe High School in Lake Charles, La. The 6'1" shortstop has always been around the game thanks to his baseball family. Gavin's older brother Garin is a highly touted third baseman in the Boston Red Sox organization. Both Gavin and Garin were coached at Barbe High School by their father and mother. Cecchini, normally known for his slick glove work, hit .273 with the Cyclones in 2013, picking up steam in August where he led his team with a .324 average while on a 16-game hitting streak. He was ranked No. 10 on MLB's 2014 New York Mets top prospect list.
Righthander Robert Gsellman led last year's Brooklyn club with a miniscule 1.014 WHIP over 70 innings. The 6'4" Santa Monica, Calif., 20-year-old commanded efficiency with a strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranked No. 5 among qualified starters in the New York Penn League. His stellar year earned him a Sterling Award. Gsellman also pitched briefly in Savannah in 2013, including an emotional Sand Gnats debut on the Sand Gnats' cancer awareness night "Pink in the Park," ; Gsellman lost his mother to cancer in 2009. He earned the win that night yielding just one earned run over five and a third innings.
Gsellman should be joined in the rotation by fellow Brooklyn starter Miller Diaz, who led all New York Penn League qualified starters with 87 strikeouts while sporting a 2.02 ERA. Sterling Award winner Robert Whalen , who boasted a 1.87 ERA in 12 starts for the Appalachian League's Kingsport Mets, figures to pitch as a starter as well.
Infielder and 4th round pick L.J. Mazilli (son of former Mets all-star, Lee Mazilli) will join the Gnats after leading the Cyclones with 34 RBI, hitting .278 with 18 extra-base hits in 2013. The outfield will be manned by Jared King and Patrick Biondi, who were responsible for nearly 25 percent of the Cyclones runs last season, scoring a combined 61 runs.
Cuban-born infielder Jorge Rivero will return to Savannah after an injury stalled a .279 Sand Gnats campaign in 2013. Rivero's on-base skills and knack for contact made him a solid lead-off hitter while healthy for 33 games. Outfielder Stefan Sabol will also return to Historic Grayson Stadium after a showing a glimpse of raw power and speed last season, where he launched 9 home runs and stole 13 bases.
Catcher Jeff Glenn will return to Savannah after receiving the most efficient pitching staff in the league during last season. With Glenn, Kevin Plawecki, and Albert Cordero behind the plate, 2013 Savannah pitchers are believed to have shattered a historical record with a 4.24 strikeouts-to-walk ratio -- the highest ratio in both minor league and major league baseball in recorded history.