Tony Cingrani wasn’t the highest rated prospect for the Cincinnati Reds during the 2010-2019 stretch of time. He topped out as the #6 overall prospect in the organization following the 2012 season on the RedsMinorLeagues.com rankings. Here’s what I wrote about the left-handed pitcher in the 2013 Reds Prospect Guide (yeah, I used to write a book each year for those of you who have only been around for the last few years):
Tony Cingrani has made one of the quickest ascensions through the farm system of anyone in the last 20 years after making his debut in the Major Leagues the season following his draft. Cingrani came into the 2012 season with questions about whether or not he could remain a starting pitcher in the long run or if he was destined for the bullpen as a power lefty.
The 2012 campaign answered some of those questions as he split time between Advanced-A and Double-A with a call up to the Major Leagues in September. The lefty only threw 56.2 innings in Bakersfield as he completely dominated the league posting a 1.11 ERA with a 0.92 WHIP, 13 walks and 71 strikeouts before earning a promotion to Pensacola. With the Blue Wahoos he saw a decline in his numbers. Most of his problems came from his walk rate nearly doubling at the Double-A level, though his strikeout rate remained close to what it was with the Blaze. In his brief call up with the Reds he pitched out of the bullpen, but showed success.
Scouts are split on whether Cingrani can remain a starter, but that split is much higher than it was coming into the season. As a starter the lefty has a fastball that works 89-93 MPH and can run it as high as 95 on occasion with very good control and a lot of deception. His change up is considered an above-average to plus pitch, but he needs to learn to trust the pitch more and throw it more often. The third pitch in his arsenal is a slider which is currently a well below-average pitch, but can flash itself as an average pitch at times. However it can also be flat just as often, if not more.
With two quality pitches already, to remain a starter Cingrani needs to improve his slider and learn to mix in his offspeed pitches a little more often than he currently does. To reach his ceiling as a number two starter he will also need to show the kind of control that he displayed before he reached Double-A.
The secondary stuff for Tony Cingrani never really found any sort of consistency. He battled over the years to make something work, trying new pitches and grips every so often – but to no real success. But man, that fastball….. it worked. And it worked well.
It was that fastball that helped the Reds third round pick not only dominate as a minor leaguer, but also ascend up the farm system with a quickness rarely seen – much less by a non-Top 5 draft pick. Let’s go back to the beginning, though.
The Cincinnati Reds selected Tony Cingrani out of Rice in 2011. Mostly as a reliever his final season, he had started in his previous three years. His first two seasons came at South Suburban College where he dominated, before transferring to Rice. His junior season there saw him make six appearances, all starts. He struggled for the most part that season. As a senior he transferred to the bullpen and was a different pitcher, posting a 1.74 ERA while pitching in 34 games.
Aside from his junior season at Rice, Tony Cingrani was pretty darn good in his college career. He started for three seasons, though in 2010 he only pitched in six games. The Reds saw him as a potential starter despite his most recent usage at Rice being out of the bullpen. And with that view, Cincinnati listened to scout Jerry Flowers and selected the lefty with the 114th overall draft pick in 2011.
The Reds sent Tony Cingrani to Billings for his first taste of professional baseball. He made an absolute mockery of the Pioneer League that season. He made 13 starts and posted a 1.75 ERA with 80 strikeouts and just six walks in 51.1 innings. To put that in context, the league average ERA was 5.06 that season.
The next season Cincinnati got aggressive with Tony Cingrani. He began the year in the California League with the Bakersfield Blaze. In the most hitter friendly league in Minor League Baseball, Cingrani posted a 1.11 ERA in 56.2 innings with 13 walks and 71 strikeouts before the end of May. The Reds promoted him to Double-A Pensacola when June began and it was mostly more of the same. Over 16 games he posted a 2.12 ERA in 89.1 innings with 39 walks and 101 strikeouts in the Southern League. His performance even earned him a call up to the Major Leagues in September, where he made three appearances down the stretch for the Reds.
The following season began in the minors at Triple-A Louisville. There would be a little bit of back-and-forth in the first half of the year between Triple-A and the Major Leagues. While in Louisville, though, Tony Cingrani just kept embarrassing hitters. He made six starts for the Bats, posting a 1.15 ERA in 31.1 innings with 11 walks and 49 strikeouts. By mid-season he was up in the Majors for good that season and graduated his “prospect” status.
Let’s take a look at his numbers in the minors while he was still considered “a prospect”:
It’s tough to really put into context just how good the performance on the mound was for Tony Cingrani. He was so much better, statistically, than any other prospect the Cincinnati Reds had in the last decade that it’s actually funny. While some of you are probably getting ready to type out your jokes about the farm system and non-performers, no – it’s not because no one else was great. It’s because Tony Cingrani was just that dominant.
The choice for Prospect of the Decade was easy. At no point along the way was there ever a hiccup for Tony Cingrani. As noted above, he was embarrassing the opposition from the start of his career and never let up before graduating as a prospect. His worst stop along the way was where he posted a 2.12 ERA over 89.1 innings with 101 strikeouts.