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Next Man Up: Tony Cingrani

April 18, 2013 BY ALEX EISENBERG One Comment

There has been a lot of discussion lately about Reds pitching prospect Tony Cingrani, and with good reason: he’s being called upon to replace Reds ace Johnny Cueto in the Cincinnati rotation while he recovers from a strained lat.

Since entering pro ball in 2011, Cingrani has posted dazzling numbers including a gaudy number of strikeouts. That said, there is some division over how good a prospect Cingrani is.

On the one hand, you see a guy dominating his competition and continuing to do so even as he advances through the organization. On the other hand, he’s not exactly doing it with pure stuff. A lot of his success is based on simple deception.

I watched a few innings of his 14 strikeout performance against Toledo to start the season. His fastball is his bread-and-butter pitch, with a velocity registering in the low 90s. When he’s going good, he’s able to locate that fastball down and on the right-hand corner of the plate (his glove side) on a consistent basis. The pitch looks as if it has a little bit of cut as it arrives to home plate, making the pitch lethal to right handers — as he long as he’s locating it.

While Cingrani is generally around the strike zone, he’s not always precise in his location. However, because hitters have such trouble seeing the fastball out of his hand, he’s able to get away with his mistakes. Hitters don’t seem to pick up the ball until it’s just about in the catcher’s mitt.

Though Cingrani’s command isn’t always on point, in the instances I’ve seen him, he’s pretty good at not leaving anything over the heart of the plate. When he misses, it’s almost always up and out of the zone — not in a spot where hitters can do a lot of damage.

Cingrani relies heavily on his fastball, but will show a mix of secondary pitches to keep hitters off balance. The most promising of these pitches seemed to be his curveball. It’s an effective pitch against lefties, starting at their hip and then sweeping down and away from them. The deception is good enough that it froze two of the hitters he threw it to. Another positive: he showed an ability to throw his curveball for strikes.

Cingrani also used a fringy slider that flashed average. He will back door it to right handers on the first pitch to keep them off balance.

I didn’t’ notice much of a change-up coming from Cingrani during the innings I watched him pitch. I know he has one, and the pitch will be crucial to his success as a starter at the big league level.

The Bottom Line

The question with Cingrani is does his stuff translate to the big league level and if so, what kind of upside does he have? I think he’ll find some initial success at the big league level based on the quality and deception of his fastball — it’s imperative that he be able to locate it, however (though you can say that for almost any pitcher). The league will eventually adjust and Cingrani must make adjustments back.

For instance, even though he loves to work that glove side of the plate, he’s going to have to move his fastball around the strike zone to keep hitters from sitting on a location. He doesn’t work his arm side a lot, but at least I’ve seen him locate to that side of the plate, so I know he can do it.

Secondly, he has to mix in more of his secondary pitches. Deceptive pitchers do pretty well when they are keeping hitters off balance by using a variety of different pitches. The difference between a swing-and-miss and a hard hit ball in play is the split second delay a hitter has when they don’t know what pitch is coming.

If Cingrani develops a reliable second pitch and a useable change-up, there is a chance he could develop into a nice No. 3 starter. He’s more likely a No. 4 starter long term, however.

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