With a 1.73 ERA including a 172/58 strikeout-to-walk ratio across two levels, Cincinnati Reds prospect Tony Cingrani was arguably the best pitcher in minor league baseball from a statistical standpoint. That success earned the left-hander a call up to the show where Cingrani has struck out eight, while walking only a single batter in four-plus innings pitched. Drafted in 2011, the former third round pick has made a meteoric rise to the big leagues. To put it in perspective, the only 2011 first round pick to reach Major League Baseball faster was Arizona Diamondbacks Trevor Bauer.
Video after the jump
Throughout the 2012 season, prospect followers have been ravenous in their hunger to learn more about Cingrani. When traveling to Huntsville for prospect heavyweights in Jean Segura and Billy Hamilton, Cingrani served as an strong under card in terms of prospect “gets.” However, Cingrani’s stuff didn’t “pop,” causing me to cover both shortstops from the series before turning attention to the left-hander.
On the mound, Cingrani utilized deception to help his stuff play up against opposing hitters. In altering his pacing, he gave the impression of lulling hitters to sleep. With a 3/4 arm slot including exaggerated arm extension in the back of his delivery, the result was a “whippy” effect which is difficult for batters to time properly. This left me repeatedly checking my radar gun for accuracy as fastballs I perceived as 90-92 MPH were actually registering a few ticks lower. It should be mentioned the velocity readings were accurate for the start, as my readings were on par with other radar guns of industry types in attendance.
In this appearance, Cingrani’s four-seam fastball sat in the 88-90 MPH range with a two-seamer at 86-88. Both pitches featured late tail and/or drop and Cingrani worked hard to attack all four quadrants of the strike zone. The result was not more than average command, but many of those misguided pitches were up-and-out to right-handed hitters where Cingrani did not finish the pitch out front of his body and dragged his arm a bit. As a member of the Reds bullpen, his average velocity has been 91.5 MPH thus far, which he could probably sustain in that role. But as with most pitchers, velocity as a starter is less than out of the pen and Cingrani is no exception.
Throughout his start in Huntsville, Cingrani relied heavily on his fastball mixing in a slider and changeup on occasion. At 78-82 MPH, the left-hander’s slider was a bit untrue in its sweeping action, but the slurvy offering was relatively effective against Double-A hitters. Of the sliders he threw, Cingrani did hang a couple resulting in hard contact. When down in the zone, it’s an average pitch to a touch above, but a “hammer me” offering when elevated due to softer break down-and-in to right-handed hitters.
At 82-83 MPH, his changeup may become an average pitch as well as it mimics the arm action and movement of the fastball. When Cingrani pulls down hard on the pitch, additional drop is evident and that carried over from his pre-game pen session to the mound. As with the rest of Cingrani’s arsenal, consistency from a command standpoint is needed to project his off-speed pitches as more than average at this point.
Projecting Tony Cingrani’s future role is difficult due to his being a rather unique left-handed pitcher. With a fastball-dominant arsenal, one would expect bigger velocity than a fastball which may not average 90 MPH throwing every fifth day. Of lefties who threw 150 or more innings in 2011-2012 while averaging 89.0-90.9 MPH, only Wade Miley and Joe Saunders threw more than 70% fastballs. In most cases, fastball usage was in the 50-60% range. This tells me Cingrani will either need to rely on off-speed pitches significantly more than he does now, or wind up a reliever at the big league level.
Regardless of the outcome, this pick has already paid off for the organization and will continue to do so in some capacity barring injury. Cingrani is not as good as the numbers would indicate, but a floor of a left-handed reliever and ceiling of number four starter leaves plenty of wiggle room for a long big league career.