If you ever played baseball the odds are that you had a teammate who played in the field and who pitched. We all grew up playing that way. It was very rare that a pitcher was only a pitcher in their youth. But when guys reach college, or the professional ranks, often times that dual-action goes away. For Michael Lorenzen it didn’t go away when he went off to play college baseball at Cal State Fullerton. He served as their everyday center fielder, hitting .335/.412/.515 as a junior. And he also served as their closer where he saved 35 games over two seasons with a 1.72 ERA.
During his junior season in college the scouting world was split on whether he was a better prospect as a pitcher or as a center fielder. Michael Lorenzen was clearly a premium athlete. He had the ability to both pitch at a high level in college, and to play center field and hit at a high level in college. The Cincinnati Reds felt that he was a better pitching prospect. With that belief they drafted him as such with the 38th overall pick in 2013.
In the minor leagues there wasn’t a ton of at-bats for Michael Lorenzen as a pitcher. The minor leagues use the designated hitter at all levels below Double-A. Once you reach Double-A and Triple-A, the pitcher only hits for themselves in games that involve two National League affiliates. Toss in that Lorenzen flew threw the farm system and reached the Major Leagues by 2015, and he had just 50 plate appearances in the minors. They didn’t exactly jump off of the page, either. He hit just .175/.250/.325 in that time with three doubles and a home run.
Still, it was something that always seemed to be not far off in the distance in the minds of some. What if Michael Lorenzen were used as a position player? For a while the Reds didn’t seem to entertain the idea. Even the idea of using him as a pinch hitter didn’t seem to be on their minds all that much. From 2015-2017 he had a grand total of 58 plate appearances – with 41 of those coming in 2015 when he was a starting pitcher. And while he hit very well for a pitcher. His .226/.241/.377 line without a walk and with 20 strikeouts didn’t exactly scream “use me over guys that actually hit for a living.”
And then 2018 happened. Michael Lorenzen caught fire at the plate. And he was used as a pinch hitter, and he hit for himself, too. He racked up 34 plate appearances on the season, hit four home runs, and posted a .290/.333/.710 line on the season. His wRC+ of 173 was the second best mark of the last decade among pitchers with at least 30 plate appearances. Only Dontrelle Willis in 2011, also with the Reds, topped that mark (183). Mike Leake and Micah Owings also appear in the top 15 of this list.
Last season several writers at Redleg Nation looked at options that the Cincinnati Reds and Michael Lorenzen could explore. Nick Carrington touched on the subject in July. Chad Dotson looked at it in August. The question was at the forefront of the mind of just about everyone as they continued to watch Lorenzen come up big time at the plate.
When the Cincinnati Reds hit the offseason and made wholesale changes in the dugout, the question remained: What will they do with Michael Lorenzen. And then we began to hear that the organization would explore the idea of using him more as a hitter. There were even some rumblings early on that he may get time in the outfield. Perhaps that was due to the fact that the team non-tendered Billy Hamilton. That left them without a true center fielder on the roster – leaving Lorenzen as arguably the best option there from a purely defensive standpoint.
At the start of spring training the plan was stated that he would get time on the mound, in the field, and at the plate. We’ve seen him taking balls in the outfield in practice, but he’s yet to register an at-bat this spring. He’s yet to take the field this spring. He’s only pitched. Well all of that changes later today. Michael Lorenzen is scheduled to pitch an inning of relief. And then he’s going to head out to the outfield where he will play for a few innings.
The Reds are hoping to be able to get the most value out of Michael Lorenzen in 2019. Value from his arm on the mound, value from his bat at the plate, value from his defense in the outfield – it seems that it’s all on the table. At least for now. As I wrote a month ago, it’s going to take incredible planning to make it work, and I’m skeptical that there’s going to be much time in the field for him during the season. But not being close-minded to the idea is great. The Reds are looking at things a bit differently and that’s not a bad thing. I will try to not speak for everyone, but I’m ready to see it in action.