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?