Earlier this week John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer put out his projected opening day roster and on it he included right handed pitcher Michael Lorenzen. The right hander was ranked as the Cincinnati Reds #3 prospect coming into spring training. The reason behind the ranking was that he projected to be a quality starting pitcher, especially after showing incredible improvements from 2013 to 2014 despite entering his first year where pitcher was his main position. He was throwing four pitches, throwing strikes and flashing quality stuff. That all got him an invitation as a non-roster player to spring training.
Fast forward two-and-a-half weeks worth of games and one beat writer thinks that he’s a lock to make the bullpen thanks to six shutout innings with two walks and five strikeouts coupled with the fact that he’s looked incredible while doing so, bringing a big time fastball with him this spring out of the bullpen. With his usage, and reading into some of the words of the manager, it would seem that Lorenzen is only being considered as a reliever right now.
I don’t doubt for a second that he can perform well in the bullpen for the Reds in 2015. In fact, I think he would be very successful in that role. The question I have is this: Is it the best move in the long run for the Cincinnati Reds franchise?
When the team selected Lorenzen in the supplemental first round they chose him as a pitcher, something other teams weren’t considering as they saw him as a toolsy outfielder. The Reds not only saw him as a pitcher, but decided that he would be able to be a starting pitcher after throwing less than 50.0 innings on the mound in college, all from the bullpen. It paid off as he went to Double-A in 2014 and was rather successful despite little pitching experience and an aggressive assignment up the ladder.
One thing the team was careful with was to limit his innings. He hadn’t really been a pitcher before, much less a starter. The team began to limit his innings in early July and he only threw five innings in two of his final eight starts as the team held his pitch count low. He would end up finishing the year with 120.2 innings pitched, easily the biggest work load of his career.
The Reds history shows us that they tend to move guys on a +30 innings increase from the year prior as they build up pitchers from year-to-year. That same increase for Lorenzen would mean he would still need another season of building up those innings before he’d be ready to handle anything like a full season workload of 180.0 innings. That would be for the 2016 season.
The 2016 season is an important one for the Reds as things stand right now, only Homer Bailey is still under contract among their starting pitchers who seem to have a job locked down. Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake will both be free agents following the 2015 season. The rest of the rotation is up in the air at this point, even though it would seem that Anthony DeSclafani has a job locked down for the time being. That leaves the Reds with three spots to fill in the rotation, IF DeSclafani works out as they hope. The Reds certainly have options to choose from. Robert Stephenson is among the top pitching prospects in the game. Raisel Iglesias may very well join the rotation out of the gate in 2015. Jon Moscot will begin the year in Triple-A, but is just a phone call away. David Holmberg will also be down in Triple-A and there are more than a few arms that were in A-ball that could jump into things with a strong 2015 season that puts them through two levels this upcoming season.
None of that mentions Lorenzen though. If he winds up in the Reds bullpen there’s no way he can build up the innings needed to be ready to handle a full workload for the 2016 season if the team is going to follow the general rule they seemed to follow for everyone else over the last 10 years when it comes to building up pitcher innings. While there’s not much doubt in my mind that he can help the big league club right now, if they are going to use him out of the bullpen it really begs the question of if it’s the right move in the long run if the team would like to use him as a starter, or if this is another situation that straddles the Aroldis Chapman line where once a guy winds up in the bullpen, they are going to stay there.