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.
Honestly, if he’s the best defensive option, I can see him being useful as a late inning defensive replacement. He could pick up some late game at bats, and be available to pitch if a game goes into extra innings.
Man, this is immensely solid bench if it turns out to be:
Schebler RF, CF, LF
Iglasias SS, 2B, 3B
Dietrich 2B, 3B, RF, LF
Casali C, 1B
Lorenzen P, RF, CF, LF
Speaking for myself, when I call Lorenzen the “best CF option”, I mean in terms of playing the position defensively. Until Senzel shows he can do that better; or, Siri or someone else is on the MLB roster, I think ML will be their best defender in CF. That does not mean he is a full time CF as we just saw that the best defensive CF in MLB for several years wasn’t the right guy for the Reds to run out there every day.
Pitch him like he was being used late in 2018 so he is set up to be a PH and end game defender in close games several days a week.
He has played one inning of right field in the last 6 years. He might be the next coming of Willie Mays but to assume he is the best defensive centerfield option at this point is quite a stretch.
One problem! It appears we won’t get to see it happen, from everywhere I’ve looked the games not on TV, figures.
That’s all he can ask for. He might be another Micah Owings that can hit a little, but was too flawed to be an everyday 8….or maybe not? Nobody knows til he gets an extended chance.
Everyone seemed to think time passed Josh Hamilton by…with his personal issues, etc., but he got it done for quite a while. Lorenzen doesn’t have that level of natural ability obviously, but he’s got more athleticism then 90% of the league and needs a chance!
Little trivia, Micah Owings is the all-time national high school single season home run champion.
Anybody here a rules expert? Do you know, is there any rule that prevents a pitcher from, say, pitching an inning, moving to the outfield for a number of innings, then being brought back in to pitch again? Not sure whether that would ever be useful, but it would be interesting to see. He hasn’t been removed from the game, so presumably this is like any other position change unless specifically prohibited, right?
This constitutes a double switch I believe and is legal. Joe maddon has done it on more than one occasion in an extra inning game with Travis Wood, right?
IIRC it’s all good – the only quirks might be gloves – I know they made Rizzo change gloves once during a shift which made him something other than a 1b, but don’t think it applies to CF or P. Also, the batting order rules remain, so he has the same spot there regardless of defensive placement. The only anti-shift rule I recall is that only the catcher is allowed to start a play in foul territory.
I’m glad they are experimenting in Spring Training to see what kind of roster flexibility this might bring. I also think that unless the Reds trade an outfielder, Lorenzen best provides flexibility by being able to go three or four innings out of the pen and hit for himself.
If Senzel is the CF (big if), that leaves Kemp, Schebler, Dietrich, Iglesias, and Casali as guys the Reds likely want on the bench. Lorenzen pitching 3ish innings at times saves the pen and allows them to have 7 bullpen guys and 5 bench guys.
He can still be a defensive replacement I guess if he’s that much better than Senzel and Schebler out there. But I hope the Reds stretch Lorenzen to 3-4 innings in Spring. That allows him to provide flexibility as both a position player and pitcher.
Anybody here see the kid play CF in college? In person? Seriously? Well, I did. And he can play there. No question about it. Time to give him a chance. As for all these other “options?” Who are they? A RFer who is just average there (Schebler), an infielder who has never played there (Senzel), a guy who has never played AAA yet (Seri) and a guy who can’t find a cut off man with a search warrant (Erwin)??? Less than stellar options for a MLB team wanting to contend!
Personally I think that is a little harsh to put the “incompetence” label on Williams and Krall. Krall has just been on a year, and I’m not sure Williams was really in charge up until this year. I am just glad that the Reds are no longer blindly skipping down the Jockey path of the past. Kudos to Williams and Krall for the bold moves they have already made.
Steve, lets give the players a little credit for the team’s failure.
I just do not see how this is going to work with the way the bullpen is going to work. Can’t put Lorenzen in CF late often if he is your 8th inning relief guy. If there is a chance you are going to extra innings they won’t want to burn a pitcher. After he pitches 3-days in a row they won’t let him play defense but he could DH.
Kyle Farmer has completely outplayed Tucker Barnhart this Spring! Deserves to start! How about a trade of Barnhart to KC — who is catcher starved! Maybe a CF prospect
Doug, what’s going to happen with the bench if the Reds carry 13 pitchers? A back up catcher (1) will make the team. Schebler (2) seems likely to be the 4th outfielder if/when Senzel makes the team. They are paying Kemp (3) $14M+. Iglesias (4) seems likely to make the team as a back up middle infielder. But they have Dietrich (5) too. And that’s already too many bench bats without mentioning Ervin, Blandino, and Connor Joe (who they lose if he doesn’t stay on the team).
What is most likely to happen: releasing Kemp, sending Schebler to AAA, or letting Dietrich go? Are any of these option more likely than carrying 12 pitchers?