Throughout the minor league season, I will be writing about a prospect every Monday who has reached the AA level or higher that could be on your fantasy roster by season's end, and what you should know about them. Today's prospect skyrocketed through the minor league system last year, starting at High-A but finishing up in the bullpen for the Major League team. With starting pitcher Johnny Cueto forced from his start on Saturday with a strained triceps muscle, the Reds could need a starting pitcher for his next turn in the rotation. Enter Tony Cingrani.
Weight: 215 lbs.
On 40 man Roster: Yes (1 option used)
Age as of 4/15/13: 23
Cingrani had struggled pretty mightily as a junior at Rice in 2010, posting an 8.59 ERA in 22 innings with 13 strikeouts and 16 walks in 6 starts. From the 2013 Baseball America Prospect Handbook:
Cingrani was so bad as a Rice junior that he asked his coaches if they wanted him to come back for his senior season. The Owls simplified his delivery and fixed a timing issue in which his arm lagged behind his lower half, and the results were immediate.
Rice used him almost exclusively as a reliever for his senior year, with substantially better results. In 2 starts and 32 relief appearances, he recorded 12 saves, struck out 66 and walked 10 in 57 innings pitched. As a result, he ended up taken in the third round by the Reds, and was given a signing bonus of $210,000.
The Reds converted him back to the rotation upon signing, and sent him to their short season affiliate in the Pioneer League. In 13 starts with Billings, Cingrani posted a 1.75 ERA, allowed just 35 hits, and struck out 80 with 6 walks in 51 innings pitched. The Reds challenged him with a High-A assignment in the California League to start 2012, and after just 10 starts (71 K, 13 BB in 56 IP), promoted him to AA Pensacola. While his walk total spiked there, he still maintained his high strikeout rate (101 in 89 IP), and was called upon to finish his season as a lefty out of the Reds' bullpen.
The organization sent him back to AAA to start the 2013 season, and in three starts so far for Louisville he has a 26/2 K/BB ratio in 17 innings pitched, with a ridiculously low 3 hits allowed.
The Scouting Report - Scouting reports are gathered from other internet sources and written reports, unless otherwise noted.
Cingrani features an above-average fastball and above-average changeup, while also throwing a slider which is considered a work in progress. The scouting reports I have read point to a pitcher who is extremely deceptive with his delivery, which helps with his current repertoire. There are questions about the slider enough so that it's not 100% clear yet whether he will end up in the rotation or bullpen. From Baseball America's Prospect Hot Sheet on Friday (h/t to Reds Minor Leagues):
Cingrani has improved his slider a bit this year, and more and more it's looking like he could be a big league starter, although his fallback position as a power reliever is an even safer bet.
There seems to be some question as to whether or not he is throwing a slider or a curveball, as noted by Doug Gray of RedsMinorLeagues.com and J.J. Cooper of Baseball America in the post at Reds Minor Leagues above. After watching his starts on MILB.tv this year, it sure looks like a curveball, with break appearing from 11-5 and fooling a couple of hitters in yesterday's start.
I watched most of Cingrani's three starts on MILB.tv, and the thing that stands out to me is that it seems like his command is very good, especially with his fastball, and that overall his throwing motion is very easy and deceptive. He relied heavily on his fastball in the first start, and the broadcasters mentioned that he was in the 92-94 range with it during the game. (This was the game where he struck out 14 over 6 no-hit innings). The Mud Hen hitters seemed to be completely overmatched at times, despite velocity which was good but not at a level of being overpowering. They did better in limited appearances in his third start, also against Toledo, but they still struck out five times in just two innings. Over his next two starts he started to do a better job of mixing in his pitches better, especially the breaking ball.
What's Keeping Him From Contributing Now?
Cingrani is already on the 40-man roster, so getting him onto the 25-man roster isn't likely to be an issue if Cueto does miss extended time. The team wanted him to keep working on starting, and with a full rotation at the Majors there wasn't a lot of reason to keep him in Cincinnati. That said, the team only had him throw two innings on his turn yesterday.
What Could He Do For Fantasy Owners Once He Gets There?
The potential for a high strikeout total from Cingrani is there, along with excellent ratios. Keep in mind that he did show a control blip when he moved to AA last year, but seems to have been fine so far this year. If you are looking for a lottery ticket in a starting pitcher in shallow leagues, I would absolutely take a shot with him. He is absolutely worth a look in almost all leagues 12 teams or deeper.
When Could He Arrive?
Well, we should know more about the Cueto injury by today. If Cueto can't make his next start, Cingrani seems most likely to be called up for his turn in the rotation. If he isn't called up at this point, he's still likely to debut some point in the season, especially if the Reds believe he will pitch better than Mike Leake.
Baseball America Prospect Handbook 2013
The Baseball Cube
Rice University Athletics Website