The Cincinnati Reds have promoted pitching prospect Tony Cingrani to the major league roster. Drafted out of Rice University in 2011, he needed just slightly more than one year to reach the Show, emerging as one of the key surprise prospects in the game this year. Let's take a look at what the Reds have.
After two years of junior college and a junior year plagued with control problems, Tony Cingrani had an excellent senior season as a reliever for Rice University in 2011, posting a 1.74 ERA, 12 saves, and a 66/10 K/BB ratio in 57 innings, allowing 47 hits. The dominant performance, his live arm, and affordability as a senior earned him a spot in the third round of the '11 draft, along with a $210,000 bonus. Despite scout concerns about his secondary pitches, the Reds moved him to the starting rotation at Billings in the Pioneer League. He thrived, posting a 1.75 ERA in 51 innings with an excellent 80/6 K/BB ratio.
However, that was the Pioneer League: college pitchers are supposed to do well there.
He began 2012 with Bakersfield in the High-A California League and remained extremely effective (1.11 ERA in 10 starts with a 71/13 K/BB ratio in 57 innings). Promoted to Double-A Pensacola, he remained very effective, posting a 2.12 ERA with a 101/39 K/BB in 89 innings, with 59 hits allowed.
Overall, he went 10-4, 1.73 this year with a 172/52 K/BB ratio in 146 innings, 98 hits allowed, and a 0.90 GO/AO ratio.
Cingrani is a 6-4, 200 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born July 5th, 1989 in New Lenox, Illinois. His best pitch is his fastball, which hits 96 MPH and works well in the low-90s (NOTE: Dougdirt, who follows the Reds system extremely closely, reports that Cingrani usually works in the 88-91 range and hasn't gotten past 93 MPH according to his info). The pitch plays up in part because his delivery is deceptive, yet he also commands the heater well, locating it at any point in the strike zone. This has been too much for minor league hitters to handle, even in Double-A.
Scouting reports about his secondary pitches are mixed. His changeup is described as anywhere from below average to above average, depending on your source. The middle point with that is average of course, which is fine as long as his command is on. His slider was considered very marginal/fringy pre-season. The consensus is that the slider has improved, but is still nothing special.
Sabermetrically, his K/IP ratios and miniscule hit rates are strong indicators for his future, although the fact that his walk rate increased in Double-A is a caution flag.
So what we have here is a lefty who throws hard and is adept at dominating minor league hitters, despite a breaking ball and changeup which still don't excite scouts. Generally that skill set fits best in relief, and that's a good fallback option. However, if I were the Reds, I'd use him as a starter as long as possible, sending him to Triple-A to open 2013 in the rotation, with the goal to improve the slider and changeup. His performance justifies it, and you can always move him back to the bullpen if necessary.
In the meantime, let's see what we can learn from his September audition. I rated Cingrani as a Grade B- pre-season and moving him up to Grade B seems reasonable now, with a B+ not out of the question as I begin the book-writing process.