When Nick Christiani took the mound for the Cincinnati Reds against the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park on August 23, 2013, he became the 62nd former Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues. In another respect, Christiani broke new ground, stepping into unchartered territory. He completed an accomplishment that is rare in baseball circles today, and almost unheard of in the player development process of an earlier era. Christiani became the very first Dragons pitcher to advance to the Reds without ever starting a game in the Minor Leagues. His career record lists 203 appearances, and every one of them has come as a reliever. His advancement to the Reds could serve as an inspiration to every Minor League pitcher who is assigned to bullpen duty.
If you examine the career history of the most successful relief pitchers in recent Major League history, they all had one thing in common. They were all starting pitchers at some point in the Minor Leagues. Prototypical relievers like Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Cordero, Joe Nathan, John Franco, and Billy Wagner, most of whom never started a game during their long Major League careers, were starting pitchers at some point in the Minor Leagues. Even situational left-handers like Jesse Orosco and the Dragons own Tony Fossas or sidearm specialist Kent Tekulve were once starting pitchers. Typically, big league teams look to maximize the innings of their most gifted pitching prospects while they are in the Minor Leagues, even if their future role will be that of a reliever. Christiani is truly in exclusive company.
Christiani opened his professional baseball career with the Dragons in 2010. He had been the New Jersey High School Player of the Year in 2005 before going on to Vanderbilt University. He was drafted by the Reds in the 13th round in 2009 but signed too late to pitch that summer, so his first game with the Dragons in 2010 was the official start to his tenure in pro ball. Christiani was nearly perfect in his first five games with the Dragons, allowing just three base runners and one run in 9.2 innings for an earned run average of 0.93 with a win and a save. He did allow runs in his next two appearances with the Dragons but was promoted after seven games, one month into his first season.
By the end of the next season, 2011, Christiani had already reached the Triple-A level with Louisville. He spent all of 2012 in Louisville as well. On August 22, 2013, the Reds placed reliever Jonathan Broxton on the disabled list. With the Reds in need of a reliever to replace Broxton, Christiani got the call. He worked an inning and one-third in his big league debut, allowing just one hit and no runs. He made two more appearances for the Reds as they battled for playoff positioning, allowing just one run in four total innings for the year.
Christiani is in spring training with the Reds in 2014 as a member of the 40-man roster. Wherever he has been, he has always pitched well, including his short stint in the Major Leagues. Still just 26 years ago, he will likely return to Louisville to start the 2014 season, but should the Reds need bullpen help, he will be a viable option.
Major League rosters are generously supplied with players who might not have always been labeled as blue chip prospects, but through hard work, perseverance, and positive results, those players emerged as Major Leaguers. Current Reds Chris Heisey and Logan Ondrusek and former Reds Ryan Hanigan and Adam Rosales, all former Dragons, could fit that description. Nick Christiani, the 62nd Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues, has also added his name to the list.
Click here for Nick Christiani's Major League statistics, photos, and video clips.
Click here for Nick Christiani's Minor League career statistics.