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April 17, 2013

The Call-Up

Tony Cingrani

by Mark Anderson and Bret Sayre

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The Situation: Not even two years after being drafted out of Rice, left-hander Tony Cingrani is on his way to the big leagues to help fill a significant void in the Cincinnati Reds rotation. Johnny Cueto, the club’s top starter, has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained muscle in his back, creating an opening for Cingrani to return to the majors after making three relief appearances last fall. Cingrani has gotten off to a blazing start for Triple-A Louisville, hurling 14 1/3 innings across three starts, allowing only three hits and two walks while striking out 26 batters.

Background: Drafted in the third round in 2011, Cingrani had found success in the bullpen after struggling as a starter in his first year (2010) at Rice. As a senior, Cingrani posted a 1.92 ERA and fanned 62 batters in 52 innings out of the bullpen. The Reds moved him to the rotation after he signed and he responded with a spectacular 1.75 ERA in 13 starts for rookie-level Billings. Jumping two levels to High-A in 2012, Cingrani torched the hitter-friendly California League with a 1.11 ERA in 10 starts, punching out 71 hitters in 56 2/3 innings. After a promotion to Double-A, Cingrani continued to succeed with a 2.12 ERA and a strikeout rate north of 10 per nine innings. The Reds purchased his contract in September and he allowed a solo home run in five innings while striking out nine hitters.

Scouting Report: Cingrani has the build (6' 4", 200 lbs.) and command profile to project as a starter long term. His delivery has natural deception and he repeats it well from the moment he breaks his hands through release. Out of his deceptive delivery and consistent arm slot Cingrani pumps a fastball that sits in the low 90s and touches 95 mph throughout his starts. He also features an excellent changeup that plays very well off his fastball and actually rates as his best offering. He can miss bats against both right-handed and left-handed hitters by mixing and matching his fastball and changeup. Cingrani’s overwhelming success remains a bit of a curiosity to scouts that see a slider that maxes out at fringy, leaving him without a quality breaking ball. In spite of that, Cingrani’s feel for pitching, ability to deceive hitters and knack for locating his deadly fastball/changeup combination are very impressive and give him a chance to stick as a mid-rotation arm.

Immediate Big-League Future: There has been some optimism surrounding Cueto’s injury and the potential for his return in just two to three weeks. Depending on how long Cueto remains on the shelf, Cingrani could receive at least three starts. His success in limited innings at both Triple-A and the majors suggests he has the stuff to come up and succeed right away. If Cingrani pitches well out of the gate, he could make it difficult for the Reds to send him down, particularly as right-hander Mike Leake continues to struggle after a mediocre 2012 season. –Mark Anderson

Fantasy Impact: It's not hard to see that the hype machine has hit Ludicrous Speed with Cingrani in fantasy leagues. And it's also not hard to see why, given the fact that he's struck out nearly 12 batters per nine over his minor league career to go along with a tidy 1.62 ERA. However, as you can surely tell from the detailed report above, there is some disconnect between the stats and the scouting on Cingrani. We are not talking about Gerrit Cole, Dylan Bundy, or Zack Wheeler here, despite the fact that Cingrani's numbers are more impressive.

What Cingrani has going for him is that he has some of the qualities often seen in pitchers who have success their first time around the league. He has deception in his delivery, an offspeed pitch that will play as an out pitch in the majors, and a plan on the mound. What is likely to exacerbate this is the fact that his first two starts will come against the Marlins and Cubs. In the short term, Cingrani should hold real value, potentially putting up an ERA under 4.00, a WHIP under 1.30, around seven strikeouts per nine innings and a good chance at wins playing in Cincinnati. And the short term could turn into the long term if Cingrani outpitches Mike Leake during his trial in the rotation.

In NL-only leagues, Cingrani is bound to be going for a pretty penny in FAAB--and as Mike Gianella mentioned yesterday, he went for $52 (out of $100 budget) in NL Tout Wars. This is unlikely to be an outlier, and is not necessarily a bad idea in redraft formats. However, in dynasty formats, Cingrani's long-term potential is being exaggerated by his staggering minor-league numbers. If you own him, you've probably gotten some trade offers in the past week, and potentially they've even been for legitimate major-league starters. I've gotten questions on Twitter about whether owners should trade Cingrani for the likes of Lance Lynn or his teammate Homer Bailey, and the answer to that is absolutely. 

As long as you are realistic about what Cingrani can provide both in the short and long term, he can either be a helpful fantasy arm or great trade bait. For now, he should be owned in all leagues given his near-term upside, and he makes for a great streaming play versus the hapless Marlins--even if he will be going up against rookie phenom Jose Fernandez. –Bret Sayre

Mark Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mark's other articles. You can contact Mark by clicking here
Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

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