You could be forgiven if you hadn't heard of Tony Cingrani before the 2012 season. Now you've got no excuse.
The Reds' third-round pick out of Rice University in 2011, he debuted that summer in the Pioneer League with Rookie-level Billings. He went 3-2 with a 1.75 ERA for the Mustangs, giving a glimpse of what was to come.
Entering this season unranked among Cincinnati prospects by MLB.com, Cingrani tore through the California League, posting a 1.11 ERA and 71 strikeouts over 56 2/3 innings. It didn't stop there as the 23-year-old left-hander notched five wins and a 2.12 ERA following a promotion to Double-A Pensacola.
Overall, Cingrani was 10-4 with a 1.73 ERA and finished second in the Minor Leagues with 172 strikeouts. By the end of the year, not only did he crack the Reds' Top 20 Prospects (he's currently No. 3), he's ranked 57th overall by MLB.com.
MiLB: Your final year at Rice, you worked out of the bullpen. Do you feel like that experience helped make you a better pitcher?
Tony Cingrani: It just made me mentally -- when I went out there -- tougher. I was a starter my whole life and I'd go out there and try to pace myself. From first pitch on, I went after everyone like I was closing.
MiLB: When the Reds put you back in the rotation, what was your reaction?
Cingrani: I wasn't overly surprised -- they said they were going to work me up. That's what happened. Definitely, for how professional baseball is played, being a starter is a lot better than being a closer or a reliever -- in the Minor Leagues, not in the Major Leagues.
MiLB: You started 2012 as something of an unheralded prospect and ended it on everyone's top prospect lists. Did you enter the year with a bit of a chip on your shoulder?
Cingrani: No, I just go out and work hard and try to beat the guy that's standing up at the plate. Just do what I need to do, and this was just the result of it.
MiLB: Having spoken to you in the past, you seem like a pretty confident guy. Has there ever been a moment or a game that's shaken that belief in yourself?
Cingrani: I've been pretty successful since I can remember. I know I wasn't the greatest baseball player growing up, but I was pretty good.
MiLB: Was struggling your junior year at Rice tough?
Cingrani: It was different because it was my first time facing adversity. It was just another obstacle, and, when I came back to Rice, they moved me to closer and that was that.
MiLB: You put up unbelievable numbers in the Cal League, a traditional hitters' league. What was the key to your success there?
Cingrani: Location of the fastball, pretty much. Using the changeup off that and my slider every once in a while.
MiLB.com: You talked earlier about going after everyone like you were closing. Did you try to hold back a little on your fastball?
Cingrani: I was told when I got to Double-A by pitching coach Tom Brown that early in the count I try to get it over in a good spot and later in the count I throw it a little harder. I guess I go out and reserve myself a little bit, but it's always full speed.
MiLB: Some scouts think you'll wind up in the bullpen in the Majors because they consider you a two-pitch pitcher. What would you say to that?
Cingrani: The numbers speak for themselves. Give me a chance to be a starter and we'll see what happens. Until I fail, I should get a chance. I should be good to go next year.
MiLB.com: Do you feel your slider needs work?
Cingrani: Yeah. Everything is a work in progress -- changeup, too. It's a good enough changeup to work off my fastball. For me, my fastball gets me through everything.
MiLB: What was it like to make your big league debut?
Cingrani: It was awesome. It was really thrilling. That's what you work your whole life for and to finally get it, it's nice. Meeting all the guys and being able to see them and see how they work and how they go about their day and going into Spring Training, I'll know everyone. Baseball is pretty much the same; they're just a little better -- or a lot better sometimes.
MiLB: What do you think you need to do in Spring Training to make the club?
Cingrani: Just do what I've been doing: Get my fastball over and, hopefully, they'll like me enough.
MiLB: Do you ever look at your numbers from this season and think, "Whoa, I did that?"
Cingrani: When I look at my Double-A numbers, I think I could have been better. I don't know, they are kind of ridiculous, I guess, but I set goals for myself. [My numbers] got me to the big leagues this year, so I can't complain.
MiLB: What were your goals?
Cingrani: Try to have less than a walk per appearance and keep my ERA under 2.00, and that's basically it. I feel like [walks] lead to a high ERA. I just go after them. Whatever the best pitch is, I throw it. The game plays out how it plays out. If I walk someone, it's not the end of the world.
MiLB: What's one area of your game you think needs work?
Cingrani: Just off-speed location, command of the off-speed. That's about it right now.
MiLB: Was there a pitcher or player you emulated growing up?
Cingrani: I was told Cole Hamels. I threw like Cole Hamels, with the curveball and changeup, until my senior year at Rice. I threw a curveball until senior year of college. Everything I throw now is a power pitch. I have to perfect the slider first, then I might go back to the curve or try the cutter. I've watched Johan Santana and all the lefties that have played the game like Steve Carlton -- I try to pick up his sliders. I watch all the lefties and try to see what they do really well and how they do it. That started in high school. There's a couple of clips on YouTube, and he's got a whole webpage and I read some stuff on him and what he did. I just watched him [Santana] and how he threw changeups and his arm. He has one of his best changes.
MiLB: What team did you root for?
Cingrani: Basically watching the White Sox, my dad took me to see them, but I'm just a fan of the game. There wasn't one team that I was die-hard for.
MiLB: Is there a particular Major League ballpark you want to pitch in?
Cingrani: I'd say Comiskey or I guess U.S. Cellular now, so [my dad] can come watch. That would be cool.
MiLB: What are you working on in the offseason?
Cingrani: I take about three weeks off then get back into running and lifting and just amping it up until Spring Training. I've been hiking a couple of times.
MiLB: What do you do when you're not working out?
Cingrani: I have a dog, so I take care of her. It's a German shepherd/border collie, so she keeps me pretty active. I take her running, walking. If there were some mountains, I'd take her hiking.
MiLB: You got a chance to play with Billy Hamilton this year. Did you pick up any tips about holding baserunners on?
Cingrani: He's just a different breed. You can't catch him. He stole off me twice in instructs last year. He's just got some ridiculous speed. I've got a pretty good pickoff move. Being a lefty, it's easy to hold runners on.
MiLB: What was it like to watch him on the bases?
Cingrani: It's real fun. Every time he was on, no one was watching the batter -- everyone was watching Billy.