2013 Reds

Risky Business

The bat signal has gone up in the Louisville night sky for Tony Cingrani. So far, the Bat’s superhero has unquestionably been Cingrani, who has been overwhelming hitters in his short but spectacular stay in Triple A. You can’t blame the front office for taking a lingering glance Tony’s way, what with the mess the big club’s staff has suddenly become. Overworked pitchers at one end of the bullpen—vacationing arms at the other end. I half expected to see Chapman & Broxton in the pen wearing a Hawaiian shirts soft-tossing a beach ball.

As predicted, the injury bug has hit. First Marshall; now Cueto. The starting staff carried a lucky horseshoe to the mound with them all of last year. That wasn’t going to happen again. But Cingrani? Already? Really?

Say it ain’t so, Walt. The kid isn’t ready. Ask the Tampa Bay Rays.

Last year the Tampa Bay Rays had a team ERA of 3.19. The American League hasn’t seen anything like that in over two decades. They’ve won 90 games four of the last five seasons. Their calling card is Pitching. They traded James Shields because they had a need on offense—and because when players get older, they get costly. They also did it because they COULD. Shields was expendable. They know the next wave of young talent is in the pipeline. Tampa Bay knows how to find pitching talent, develop it and leverage it to strengthen other parts of their organization. What the Rays don’t do—is panic. They have a philosophy. They stick to it. It works.

That philosophy begins with patience. They have a different physical regimen than other teams, one that they believe gives them a leg up on keeping young arms healthy. They believe in the power of the Changeup and they make sure their pitchers believe in it, too. Perhaps most importantly, the Rays believe in getting the mental part of the game right as much as the physical. If you are a young pitcher in the Rays’ organization, you can expect to find yourself taking in the full minor league experience. The Rays don’t like young pitchers coming up before they’ve done their due diligence—and due diligence equals 500 innings of work in backwaters like Wappingers Falls and Bakersfield.

Tony Cingrani has barely pitched 200 innings in his short stay in the minors. He’s been spectacular, relying heavily on his fastball at the expense of his secondary pitches, which are still in their early stages of development. But, overpowering in the minors is no guarantee of major league success. And once major league hitters figure out the deception in Cingrani’s delivery, the fastball alone will not be nearly enough.

It can be tough for any young player to fail at the big league level, but for prospects like Cingrani—who have known nothing but success—to see failure for the first time at the major league level can be crushing. It can destroy confidence and set back a player’s development for a long period of time.

Consider this from Theo Epstein:

I’m extremely competitive and I hate losing a single game, let alone having an unsuccessful season, but the one thing I’ve learned over two decades in baseball now is you simply can’t rush young players. You can, but you run a significant risk of jeopardizing their development and their future. Young players literally get ruined by rushing them through the minor-league system and then forcing them to break onto the big-league club before they’re ready. Besides disrupting their development, it can traumatize them as well and often times be something they don’t recover form.

The Reds fiddled with Chapman and ended up compromising the organization. Now, the dominoes are beginning to fall and the Reds are about to risk compromising another young talent.

There’s an old sports trope: let the game come to you. Are the Reds letting the game come to them? Or are they forcing the issue? Are they making another mistake of Chapmanesque proportions?

33 thoughts on “Risky Business

  1. Ok Richard, my question is: If not Cingrani then who? Galarraga? Look, I don’t think that Cingrani should come up and stay up as a mainstay in the Reds rotation unless he’s very successful. If however the Reds expect Cueto to miss 3-4 starts, I don’t see how throwing Cingrani in a those starts is going to seriously stunt his development.

    • @LWBlogger: This was my thought as well. Starting him for 3 or 4 starts doesn’t seem any different than bringing him up last year for a few innings of relief.

      The Rays are not the only team who have produced effective pitchers. It is not the only way. I’m not going to be worried because a pitcher finds a different path to the majors and expect from the start that he will not have success. I’m not going to say if his over-reliance on the fastball gets him hit he has failed either. Let him come up, get his feet wet (perhaps even fail) and see what he needs to do to continue to develop in the minors.

  2. I think this a bit panic-inciting to be honest. The Rays do things the right way, but that doesn’t mean bringing a guy up is going to stunt his development. Latos was up as a 21 year old, that Jose Fernandez kid in Miami has been lights out recently, and really, look at Cueto! They practically called him up from Dayton.

    Cingrani dominated at Billings, jumped Dayton and performed exceptionally at a notorious hitter’s haven in Bakersfield, and continued to do well into AA. Then he did well in his short call up last season, and has simply obliterated the competition at AAA.

    Yes, you don’t want to rush prospects; Homer Bailey is a perfect example of that. But Homer’s also a very good pitcher now. Cingrani has dominated and the Reds have injury issues. If he does well up here, keep him around. If he stumbles for a couple starts, send him back down once Cueto is ready. There isn’t a reason to panic about calling him up now.

  3. RF, I watched Cingrani pitch the Bats’ opener (in which he struck-out the first eight batters and 14 of the 19 batters he faced) and spoke with him about it 3 days later about that game and he told me that all he threw was fastballs. I agree that this isn’t the time to rush him to the bigs when he doesn’t have his other pitches fine tuned. I think that Galarraga may be the best short term bet because of his big league experience. Prior hasn’t been used as a starter, so he isn’t an option.

  4. RF, I watched Cingrani pitch the Bats’ opener (in which he struck-out the first eight batters and 14 of the 19 batters he faced) and spoke with him about it 3 days later about that game and he told me that all he threw was fastballs. I agree that this isn’t the time to rush him to the bigs when he doesn’t have his other pitches fine tuned. I think that Galarraga may be the best short term bet because of his big league experience. Prior hasn’t been used as a starter, so he isn’t an option.

  5. This is a bit of an overreaction. The callup could actually be beneficial for multiple reasons.

    If TC gets banged around, he’ll know what he has to work on when he heads back to Louisville. Further, the brass will have more information to make an informed decision on whether he projects as a starter or a reliever.

    If he’s lights out, we have an upgraded rotation, Leake becomes the long man, and Parra or Ondrusek gets shipped out.

    • @stevechai: You’re behind the times. Just ask Dusty…the gods conspired to not present him with an opportunity to put him in. Because there’s a rule that anyone named Broxton may only pitch in the 8th inning, and only if you have a 3 run lead or less.

  6. Gotta agree this may be an over reaction. No one is calling for this kid to be the Ace of the staff and throw 200+ IP this season. He can come up for 2 or 3 starts, get his feet wet and then they can re-evaluate the rotation. If by the time Cueto comes back and Cingrani has an ERA around 3 and Leake is hovering above 5, then I think management will have a tough decision to make. David Price had less than 150 IP in the minors and he turned out fine (I realize he played in college and the SEC could be considered better than most single A ball teams). Eventually you have to take the training wheels off and see if the kid can handle the bigs, and I think giving him a stint in the rotation with low pressure on him would be a great way to start

  7. I think it would be better for Cingrani to stay in AAA. I would tell him and the catchers that he needs to work on other pitches and until he does, he will stay at AAA. From what I understand, he was told when he was assigned to Louisville that he needed to work on his pitches. To me there is a problem (miscommunication at best) that he went out and threw 85%+ fastballs in his first start. However, I think the Reds have said – we are all in this year. Chapman is in the bullpen because it’s best for this year. Everyone thought Homer was ready when he first came up. Being lights out in 3 starts AAA, doesn’t prove much.

  8. By the way, I’m not saying Cingrani will have problems. I’m saying long term, it would be better if he stayed in AAA. Does anyone think Leake wouldnt have benefitted from pitching in the minors? Has he pitched decent/well? Sure. But I think if he had spent a year or two in the minors, his upside would have been higher in the long run.

  9. Odd, we are making a mistake to start TC with more starting experience than Chapman. Yet not starting Chapman has “jeopardized the franchise”

    Hyperbole….

  10. I vote for a big overreaction. I don’t think Tony Cingrani is being rushed. Maybe he does have stuff to work on in AAA (like breaking pitches) but he has not yet had an opportunity to see what he needs to do to be successful at the MLB level – he’s been dominant everywhere, even in his brief stint in the Reds’ bullpen. I don’t think letting him coast through the season in AAA striking out 15 guys per game with fastballs is going to help his development or educate him on what he needs to improve.

    Cingrani will get 2 or 3 starts, the first of which is against the Marlins, and then the Reds can reevaluate when Cueto returns. If Cingrani needs to return to AAA he can, with a better understanding of what he needs to work on. If he does well Leake can be sent to AAA to work on whatever. If nothing else they can determine what kinda role they can count on Cingrani for later this season – starter or reliever.

    On the other hand I see no benefit whatsoever in promoting Armando Galarraga. He can fill a rotation spot while we count down the days until Cueto replaces him, often hearing objections that the Reds aren’t taking the season seriously if they overlooked Cingrani.

  11. I watched Cingrani last year and batters could not pick it up. He might just make the jump. Love to see it- good breaking ball and a sneaky fastball + lefty. Trouble is coming

  12. There is a huge difference in developing a pitcher drafted out of high school aa opposed to one that is drafted out of college. A college pitcher usually doesn’t need the 500 innings of seasoning in the minor leagues.
    Look at the difference in Cingrani and Stephenson and their developments.

  13. Richard,

    I’m a huge Rays fan. I’ve often used them as an example of how the Reds should make personnel decisions. However, I’m curious if you can support the 500 IP assertion.

    James Shields
    Jeremey Hellickson
    Alex Cobb
    Matt Moore
    Wade Davis

    While it is true that these guys all pitched 500 IP, it should also be pointed out these guys all share a commonality: they were drafted out of high school.

    David Price is the only key pitching prospect that didn’t come out of high school. He also only pitched 144 innings int the minors. David Price is rare type of pitcher, but I just don’t know if there is evidence that the Rays treat all their pitchers this way….

    • @CP: Good point, CP. And one I completely overlooked. I will say this: Cingrani seems to rely exclusively on his hard stuff and his other pitches are rated below average by just about everybody who does that sort of stuff. If they bring him up only temporarily, it could work. But, I worry about Dusty moving him to the bullpen (that’s what he has been projected to do, relieve) and attempting to use him there for an extended period.

      I don’t see him developing his other pitches up here if they do that. And I see his confidence taking a big hit should that happen.

      • @Richard Fitch: Your perspective, “I worry about Dusty moving him to the bullpen (that’s what he has been projected to do, relieve) and attempting to use him there for an extended period”, just sounds too consistent with Mr. Baker’s self-serving style. Chapman revisited! That’s exactly why Cingrani should stay in Louisville.

        This season is Mr. Baker’s last, best chance for a world series and I really believe Mr. Baker will do anything to try and make that happen. Choo will almost certainly be gone next season. Arroyo will probably be gone next season. Hamilton may very well not be ready next season. Hanigan will be another year older and Mr. Baker either doesn’t want Mesorco catching or doesn’t trust Mesoraco catching. BP will be another year older. Ludwick will be another year older and coming off a serious injury. If it doesn’t happen for Mr. Baker this season, it will probably never happen and he knows it. Quite frankly, the Reds have a pretty good chance of making the playoffs again this season (although those chances are diminishing with every injury adjustment Mr. Baker must make), but the Reds chances of advancing further in the playoffs are just marginally better this season than in previous seasons with Mr. Baker managing. I hate to see any of the post-Mr. Baker future sacrificed for another futile attempt by Mr. Baker to win a world series.

      • @Richard Fitch: I don’t think you have to worry about Dusty Baker moving Cingrani to the bullpen without the organization’s support. Walt Jocketty controls the roster, and he can demote him if Cingrani loses a rotation spot. Similarly he can demote Leake upon Cueto’s return to ensure that Cingrani retains a rotation spot. Dusty can’t just go rogue and move to a 4 man rotation to support his nefarious goals or whatever.

        Cingrani is getting a chance in the rotation. Bryan Price will be watching closely and Jocketty decides if he stays or goes back to Louisville. Maybe Cingrani will struggle while Cueto is out but it seems worth finding out. I don’t think there’s reason to be worried about Dusty. If anything you should be worried about Walt Jocketty’s judgment.

  14. Sure its risky, but one probably worth taking at this point.

    There are plenty of examples of young players (either pitcher or position) that have starred or failed. There is no such thing as a crystal ball regarding player development in any sport.

    The Rays, while a good example, do what they do for a variety of reasons, namely cost control. Myers could help them win some games now, but thay have chosed to season him more while at the same time delaying his salary thresholds. There’s risk in doing that too.

    • Sure its risky, but one probably worth taking at this point

      Why is it worth the risk at this point? It’s April. They have other options. Admittedly, not options Dusty is likely to consider, but options nonetheless. The Rays are winning 90 games a year with this approach. Yeah, cost control is a factor. But, ultimately, they do it because it works.

  15. Why even discuss option(s) that DB is not likely to use?

    We don’t have a guy in the minors like Redmond or Francis in 2012. The only guy on the farm similar is Gallaraga, who just left a start early himself. Guys lower than AAA are really not a choice.

    So when you have eliminated all the other possiblities, what ever remains, however improbable (undesireable), must be the answer.

    Tony C, should be the called up because he is the most qualified in the system. He’ll need some secondary pitches, no doubt, so he, Price, and Hannigan/Mesoraco will all have to be on the same page with the game plan.

    I suppose you could use LeCure or maybe Simon, but with LeCure’s soreness issues, and the the need to have Simon (or Sam) streach out (which on the Reds would require 1-2 ‘bullpen’ starts), mean a thin middle relief corps gets thinner.

    Perhaps he does well, perhaps he doesn’t. The Rays don’t have all the answers, as the careers of Kazmir and Garza are somewhat negative data points to your hypothosis (my son’s favorite new word!).

    I like your points on patience but it can lead to procrastination too. Fine line between the two.

    • Why even discuss option(s) that DB is not likely to use?

      Uh, because this is a baseball blog. Just because Dusty and/or the front office won’t take a particular approach doesn’t mean it’s not worth advocating.

      the careers of Kazmir and Garza are somewhat negative data points to your hypothosis

      So, they have to be successful with everybody in their organization before you’ll take it seriously? Overwhelmingly successful is not enough? C’mon.

      They are hardly procrastinating on Cingrani. He doesn’t have much other than the fastball right now. How will Price & Co. being on the “same page” correct for that?

      • @Richard Fitch:

        So what are the options? The whole article (which was well written and makes good points) discusses the dangers of using him now, but no mention of options. If you were thinking Gallaraga, I would be on-board with that at post time, but after leaving his start early last night (blister?), that is probably not a good idea anymore. *shrug*

        I agree with you that the majority of bullpen issues right now are self-inflicted, but they are there and it limits using the two best long guys, LeCure and Simon (Parra would not be a good choice). Might be okay with a spot start or two, but with Cueto’s projected return being optimistically 3-4 times thorugh the rotation, I don’t see a better option.

        Regarding your rebuttle to Kazmir and Garza, I was just pointing out the exceptions, much as CP did with Price. I agree with you that more seasoning is generally better (ie Practice make perfect), but right now neccessity is mother of invention or something like that.

        Also, I am not saying they are procrastinating on Tony C, but need to beware of procrastinating on this situation. They have pick the best solution regardless of other considerations, if that is spot-starting LeCure or Simon with Freeman getting mop-up innings until Marshal returns, great! I just happen to think that solution vs. Tony C is a 50-50 coin flip. Neither are great options.

        • @Lost and Found: Kazmir came up thru the Mets system and spent the bulk of his developmental years with them. Not really fair to saddle his career with the Rays since the Friedman regime has only been in place since 2008 or so.

          LeCure would most certainly be a better option if his soreness isn’t something else. Or find somebody outside the organization off the scrap heap who can muster a start or two.

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