In 2012, his first full season as a professional baseball pitcher, Tony Cingrani made an indelible mark in the heavy hitting California League by dominating the opposition over the course of ten starts. The 6’4” lefty struck out 71 batters over 56.2 innings while giving up only 39 base hits to an opposition that managed a .189 batting average. Cingrani gave up two home runs and thirteen walks as he conquered the circuit with ease.
His success in the Cal League led to a promotion to double A, a step that is often considered the most difficult in a minor league player’s development. Cingrani was unphased by the enhanced competition in the Southern League. Over the course of 89.1innings at Pensacola, he struck out 101 while sporting a 2.12 ERA and limiting opposing batters to a .192 batting average.
In September of 2012, Cingrani made a brief debut with the Reds out of the bullpen. In three appearances, Cingrani pitched five innings; allowing four hits and two walks, while striking out nine. All of this statistical success by a pitcher drafted in 2011, and yet, the hype around Cingrani seems relatively tempered. Baseball Prospectus ranked Cingrani 91and Baseball America left Cingrani at 82. “He can thrive in the bullpen with two pitches, but needs a better breaking ball to succeed as a starter.” (Baseball America, 2013 Prospect Handbook). John Sickels made a similar point in his 2013 prospect book: “[i]f the slider doesn’t come around, he should still have a long career in the bullpen and could even close games.” (The Baseball Prospect Book 2013).
In watching Cingrani’s five innings of work for the Reds in September, there were moments where he seemed like a pitcher who could stick as a starter and have some success doing it. The running and sinking movement he had on his fastball left one hitter walking around the batters box smiling after a swing and a miss. In addition to the good movement on his two seam fastball, Cingrani displayed the ability to place his low 90’s fastball on the inner and outer edges of the zone helping him strike batters out or induce weak contact. In these relief appearances for Cincinnati, he went to his fastball almost exclusively. Also apparent in his debut was Cingrani’s impressive pickoff move to first. Although he doesn’t throw a cutter, comparisons to Andy Pettitte seem apt.
The most interesting statistical trend about Cingrani, besides his total and utter domination of the California and Southern Leagues in 2012, is his lefty/righty splits in 2012. Right-handed batters mustered a .186 batting average and two home runs against Cingrani, while Southern League lefties hit .207 and hit five home runs against the southpaw. In the California League, lefties hit .237 against Cingrani while righties hit .170 and struck out 34.6% of the time.
Cingrani will begin the season pitching in the International League for the Louisville Bats. Odds are that Cingrani will make significant contributions with the Reds as a starter during the regular season or as a reliever during a likely playoff run. Cingrani, Aroldis Chapman, and Sean Marshall would make for an awesome left-handed trio in the Reds bullpen come October.