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Astros Minor League Profile: Jose Cisnero

It's Minor League Friday. I know what you're thinking, that every day around here has turned into Minor League Day. That's what happens with a bad team, though, fans have to look to the prospects for hope.

In that spirit, let's look at a guy you might not know too much about. His name is Jose Cisnero.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-hander was signed out of the Dominican Republic on Dec. 9, 2007. That was right after Astros general manager Ed Wade came on board and right as the Astros made a trade for Miguel Tejada. You may have heard about that instead.That's probably why there were no details or press releases on Cisnero's signing. But, he did become one of the first prospects to join the club in the Wade/Heck regime.

He started his professional career by pitching with the Dominican Summer League Astros in 2008. That season, he threw 29 innings, starting six games and appearing in four more. He struck out 34, walked 11 and allowed 18 hits. He graduated to the Appalachian League in 2009, continuing his strong strikeout numbers and winning a couple of the league's Pitcher of the Week awards. He struck out 65 in 55 2/3 innings while walking 30 and allowing 32 hits. That's a batting average allowed of .165, which is pretty ridiculous. Cisnero also showed a proclivity for generating ground balls.

Neither John Sickels nor Baseball America had scouting reports on Cisnero, so we'll have to rely on our own information and stats. Let's see how the 21-year old has done in his first 13 starts with Lexington.

Before we begin, I'd like to discuss my methodology quickly. Profiling starting pitchers is more difficult than hitters. With batters, you can find out what their spray chart looks like, how they hit at different positions in the batting order and even defensive stats. It's harder to do with pitchers, but I've developed a system that lets me look at most of their relevant data in a start-by-start way. I look at both earned and unearned runs, game scores, run support, GIDPs, all the batted ball rates, LOB percentage and even split stats. I get some of this information by combing through the recaps of each start, taking errors, batted ball data and the like and adding to what already comes in the box score. This gives you a surprisingly accurate picture of what a starter has done. I also use this to figure Pitching Runs Created. In case you were wondering, Cisnero has generated 23.43 PRC this season in 13 starts, which is pretty good.

Cisnero has one of the more interesting lines in the Astros system. Yes, he's got a 4.45 ERA and a batting average allowed of .231 this season. He's only 3-4, despite excellent strikeout numbers and a low H/9 rate. His FIP is worse at 5.02 and that's not even mitigated by his BABiP, which sits at .289. That's low, but not low enough to show half a run in difference between his FIP and ERA.

He's been steadily getting better as the months have worn on. His strikeout totals and K/9 rate has risen with each month and his FIP in June is at a season-low 3.65. That also corresponds to an ERA of 3.21 this month, though he has an 0-2 record to show for it.

Cisnero's strikeout total puts him in the top 10 of the South Atlantic League. He has less innings than any of the other pitchers in the top 10, but also has one of the best K/9 rates. His 67 total strikeouts also put him just above of a guy you may know, Arodys Vizcaino. The Braves prospect was received from the Yankees in the Javier Vazquez deal last winter.

Unfortunately, Cisnero is also fourth in the Sally League in walks with 34. Fellow Legend pitcher Juan Minaya is second on the list with 37 walks. Those two are one of the reasons why Lexington leads the league in walks. Control does seem to be a problem with Cisnero, as he's also hit seven batters in 13 starts.

The other place these control problems pop up is in his innings totals. Cisnero usually throws five innings, especially when you throw out his two-inning start in a rain delayed game. Still, he's pitched into the sixth only three times and finished the sixth just once. His Game Scores reflect this; he's averaged a GS of 49 and only scored over 60 twice, in his first start (61) and his fourth (71). His pitch counts also are probably higher because of his strikeouts. Jordan Lyles had the same problem last season, but did stretch out as the season wore on. That's a possibility with Cisnero in July and August.

This really doesn't tell us a lot about him, though. One of the things I liked doing last seaosn was charting out starters using box score data and trying to build a scouting profile based on that. For some of these pitchers, we don't have a lot of information, and I was always surprised how much youc an get right from this data. Let's see when we can do with Cisnero.

  • He probably throws a four-seam fastball that sits around 92-93 with good movement. Any harder than that and he'd be popping up on scouting radars. Any slower and he'd have trouble getting this many strikeouts with his control issues. In fact, his fastball's movement may be part of the problem with his control. If he has trouble finding a feel for the pitch and spotting it on the corners, it could lead to the uptick in his home run rate.
  • He also probably throws a two-seamer that sits around 90 with heavy sink. Cisnero is tall and probably can get good downward movement based on his delivery. He clearly has a knack for both inducing double plays (9 this season) and getting grounder in general. I have his ground ball percentage at 49.1 percent, which is different from the rate at Minor League Splits. I'm not so sure I trust their numbers, since they have more innings than I have or that the Lexington site has. They also have fewer batters faced than I do, so something went wrong. One reason could be that I add in ground balls, fly balls and line drives on hits, fielder's choices and errors. So, I trust my data and we'll base things off that. All signs point to Cisnero being able to generate a good ground ball rate in the future.
  • He probably throws a mid-80s slider that he controls sometimes, but can back up on him. We've already talked about his control problems and I imagine the slider could contribute to that. He also could use the pitch both to up his strikeout rate and to get ground balls, which is why I think the secondary pitch is a slider and not a curve. He could throw a hard curve, but with his tendency to throw gopher balls, I tend to look for the pitch with a tighter rotation. The other reason I think this is a slider is he doesn't show any platoon split. He's given up an equal number of home runs, has a fairly equal FIP and BAA against both lefties and right-handers. To do that, he needs a pitch he can throw to both. A good slider fits that profile nicely.
  • He has some other off-speed pitch but probably doesn't use it as more than a "show-me" offering. It might be a curve or a change.
  • He tends to make more mistakes when the Legends score more runs. All but two of the games when he's given up home runs have been when Lexington scored at least four runs. That suggests he may either lose concentration or that he's trying to pitch to contact. He doesn't usually give up a ton of hits in those games, but when he does, they're over the fence. This is a little more shaky of an assumption, but seems to fit the pattern. It could just be luck, though.
  • Cisnero must have pretty good raw stuff. His pitches probably have a lot of movement on them, which leads to his control issues, but also means he can miss plenty of bats. His lien drive totals are usually very low. In nine of his 13 starts, he's given up one or fewer line drives and 14 of is 20 total line drives in those other four starts. That may just be him learning how to pitch, but it could also be due to his control, since those starts are also the ones when he gave up the most runs. Crazy how that works, huh? Pitchers who succeed in the Sally do so for two reasons: they have great stuff a la Jordan Lyles or they have pinpoint control a la Jordan Lyles (or Fernando Abad or Douglas Arguello). Cisnero seems to fall under that first category, which is encouraging.

With his limited inning totals the past two seasons, I wouldn't be surprised to see him held back a little, maybe skipping a few starts here or there. He's already thrown more innings than he did in 2009 and is close to surpassing his total number of pro innings (84 2/3 IP). Still, Cisnero profiles as a nice prospect. I'd probably rank him slightly ahead of both Brad Dydalewicz and Ross Seaton right now and right around Kyle Greenwalt (though my opinion of Dydalewicz and Seaton is down right now). His floor could be as a late-inning guy in a Wilton Lopez mold while his ceiling could be Felipe Paulino with a little less velocity. I don't see him getting promoted to Lancaster this season, but with his age, he could jump to Double-A in 2011.