Cecconi’s path to Petco

Photo: Perfect Game

Tiffany Seal
Published: Wednesday, August 2, 2017

In just over a week, 50 of the nation’s top high school seniors will make their way to San Diego’s Petco Park to take part in Perfect Game’s All-American Classic. To be selected as a PG All-American is one of the highest high school honors, with over 140 of today’s MLB stars sharing the same experience as this year’s 26 East and 27 West players.

As for the East’s Slade Cecconi, the selection falls nothing short of one the highest accolades to-date in his young career.

“It was an amazing feeling to be selected, it’s such an honor and something I have been working toward for the last few years of playing in Perfect Game events," Cecconi said. "Seeing all the older All-Americans, it was something I had always had a vision of but it was never really real to me until I finally got the news.”

The dream became a reality on July 11, as the Selection Show was a live-stream event on MLB.com as part of the 2017 MLB All-Star Game Fan Fest in Miami.

“This is certainly one of the top achievements I have had,” said Cecconi. “Obviously it is an honor to possibly play for my country, but this is right there with it. Being able to be with the top 50 players in the country all at one event is something you don’t see every day and is really special.”

The 2018 righthanded pitcher from Oviedo, Florida has already compiled a resume filled with some of the top honors in amateur baseball, including being a USA Baseball 18u National Team Trial selectee.

As Cecconi makes the 2,450-mile trek to San Diego, he will be surrounded by familiar faces, with one being fellow Florida native and catcher/righthanded pitcher Mason Denaburg.

“We have been friends since I was 12 years old," Cecconi said of Denaburg. "We have played with each other and against each other for the last five years. I know a few of the other guys from just talking and meeting. Everyone kind of knows of each other from the high level we all play at.”

Cecconi plays his travel ball with the elite Orlando Scorpions organization, which has two PG All-Americans on its roster this summer, with outfielder Connor Scott being one of the other close friends joining Cecconi on the East squad. The Scorpions have played a central role in the development of the No. 6 overall 2018 prospect, where he began playing at 14. But his history with the organization goes back even further than that.

“I have worked with Sal Lombardo, he’s a pitching instructor there, since I was 10 or 12 years old. He and my dad have really worked together a lot helping me pitching-wise.”

Cecconi credits his dad, who was a three-sport athlete in high school, playing baseball, soccer and football, and continued his football career at UCF, as one of the most influential people in his life.

“My parents [are my role models], especially my dad, he’s really been the one that has worked with me the most on this,
 Cecconi said. "Just practicing with me all the time with my pitching and mechanics.”

Growing up, Cecconi enjoyed playing football and baseball but decided the diamond was where he belonged. Up until that point, the one thing he was still undecided on was whether he wanted to focus all of his efforts toeing the rubber.

“Up until I was about 13 or 14, I wasn’t really if sure if I wanted to be a pitcher or position player," Cecconi recalled. "But once I started pitching on the bigger fields, that’s when I started realizing this was something I really wanted to work at and develop.”

With the tag-team effort of former scout Lombardo and Cecconi’s dad, the two were right there to help further develop the budding potential.

“I was late developing,” said Cecconi, who describes himself as mid-sized. “I was never really the shortest but was never the tallest. Over the last two years, I’ve grown eight inches, so I have recently just hit my growth spurt over the last year.”

Before he throws a pitch, scouts can already check off one box, as Cecconi’s tall, lanky frame passes the eye-test, but could also lead to delivery issues, as young pitchers struggle to bring everything together at the right time to deliver repeatable mechanics.

“I just stick to my mechanics, that’s what I always fall back on,” said Cecconi, who shows advanced awareness of his 6-foot-4 frame. “There are just three or four points in my arm motion that I focus on step-by-step-by-step to make sure I am repeating the same motion, so that way, even if I have different lever points from growing, I can still focus on feeling the same motion.”

Cecconi’s three-pitch mix consists of a fastball, which sits mid-90s and is complimented with a slider and curveball.

“I go up there looking to attack the strike zone on every pitch. With every pitch, I am looking to throw either a located quality strike or if I maybe have two strikes on a batter, early 0-2, 1-2 count, a quality miss either up with a fastball or down with a breaking ball. Other than that, I am always trying to stay in the strike zone, paint corners and really attack and establish with my fastball early.”

If his arsenal, mechanics and presence on the mound look similar to a Big Leaguer’s, it would be found in the Diamondbacks’ dugout.

“I’ve really modeled my pitching and game after Zack Greinke. He was a Scorpion and worked a lot with coach Sal. He’s got a similar repertoire pitch-wise, and I have based some of my mechanical keys off what he does. Just seeing his success in the Major Leagues and how he carries himself and his persona on the mound, it really gives me something to base myself off of and also work toward.”

When Cecconi is not in the gym, the Next Level facility or on the mound, you can find him out back on the lake in his 12-foot jon boat.

“I like to go fishing a lot, I also like to golf, but I don’t get to as often because of the weather here, but a lot of fishing.”

As for some of his other hobbies, they include cheering on all teams Miami. 

“I have always been a Miami fan,” said Cecconi. “I would say Marlins [are my favorite team]. I’ve grown up a Hurricanes fan, Dolphins fan and Heat fan.”

Come 2018, the No. 1 overall player in the state of Florida will be the one on the mound in the iconic Miami orange and green representing his favorite sports town.

“I took two different trips down to Miami,” said Cecconi. “One to see the baseball program, meet the coaches and see the facilities, the second one was more academic-based. It was talking to the academic advisors and seeing the academic buildings.”

His visible baseball acumen and ‘student of the game’ approach doesn’t leave when he walks off the mound, he might even have a higher IQ off the field.

“I am looking to go down there and play and study pre-med. Miami at the time had one pre-med student on the team, and one who I just talked to that just graduated and is going on to medical school. They told me Miami was a great place to both be able to play and [study], especially as a pitcher because I would have more down time. A position player might be a little harder, but as a pitcher, I can work around it a little better with scheduling,” said Cecconi, who was considering Florida, Florida State and Ole Miss during the selection process.

“[The players] told me they were great about class and baseball
scheduling, and if your time management is good down there, it is something that if you work hard, you can definitely do. So that was a big part, but the baseball program is really good down there."

Cecconi’s interests both on and off the field will be able to come together at the PG All-American Classic, as the proceeds of the event go to San Diego’s Rady Children's Hospital. Each year, players set up a fundraising account prior to the trip to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer research and treatment. Since 2003, the Classic has raised $950,000 with the opportunity to surpass $1 million this year. 

“I have set up a fund and have been getting donations. I posted on Twitter and had my mom post it on Facebook with a short message and two pictures to go along with it to try and help raise some money for these kids.”

Once in San Diego, players are able to experience first-hand where all the efforts go, as they spend a day with the kids at the Children’s Hospital.

“I’ve heard it’s a really ‘stop you in your tracks’ moment,” said Cecconi. “One thing that I heard specifically that really made me think was when you go there, you are not a big leaguer yet, you’re just a high school kid, but all these kids are going to look at you like you are a big leaguer, like you are that special. That made me have a different [outlook] on the impact we can have on these kids. It’s something that I am really looking forward to.”

As the PG All-American Classic wraps up an eventful summer for the rising senior, taking it all in and enjoying his last full summer of travel baseball is what is in order, during an opportunity he will be able to share with some of the country’s most talented high school baseball players. 

“I am really looking forward to the overall experience because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity that only such a small percentage of baseball players get to experience," said Cecconi. "I am just going to be there just taking everything in and making sure I make the most of my time there.”

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