By now, everyone has heard that Homer Bailey has been placed on the disabled list with an elbow ligament sprain. The best case scenario is that Bailey misses a month or two, but it sounds like it could be much longer. The first player called up to take his place, and hopefully stick around for a while, is Michael Lorenzen. Lorenzen is a name that many Reds fans have heard in the past as he was one of the final cuts in spring training and one of their top prospects since his draft day. During spring training the Reds were looking at Lorenzen to fill a bullpen role, but decided to let him continue to develop as a starter. That patience has seemed to at least pay off a bit with Homer going to the DL.
Michael Lorenzen is a weird player. He was drafted 38th overall by the Reds in the 2013 draft, behind the Reds first overall pick Phillip Ervin (Keep crushing those baseballs, Phlervin) who was taken at #27. Lorenzen was a star at Cal State Fullerton where he started every day in center field and was projected as a first or second round talent at that position. Scouts believed he had all the tools to be a gold glove caliber center fielder, but also believed his bat would limit his full potential. To put this into perspective, I've heard that his ceiling was Drew Stubbs like, which I guess is ok. The Reds saw a different kind of potential in Lorenzen and his strong right arm. This a right arm that has been projected as a #2 or #3 starter or a top flight closer in the future.
Lorenzen would start the game in center field and then finish the game on the mound, locking down save after save for the Titans. He primarily used a fastball (topping out in the high 90's, nearing 100 MPH) and a filthy slider. Many teams passed on Lorenzen as a pitcher because of the monumental project he seemed to be. The Reds, however, have been toying with a strategy of converting hard throwing college relievers into professional starters, and they believed they could do the same with Lorenzen. Since his 2013 draft day, Lorenzen has done nothing but impress while on the mound for the Reds organization.
His first season as a professional saw him move up four levels while working primarily out of the bullpen and finish the season in the Arizona Fall League. This was the first look we had of Lorenzen, and he showed the stuff the Reds believed he had, at least in a relief role. In 2014, Lorenzen finally took the mound full time as a starter, beginning at the AA level, and proved he could do what many teams thought he couldn't. He threw a healthy 120.1 innings with a 3.13 ERA. Towards the end of the season, Lorenzen started to tire as he reached his inning cap, but his first professional season was a complete success. He worked best at limiting his home runs (0.7 HR/9) and honing his control (3.3 BB/9). However, for a guy that throws as hard as he did he didn't strike out that many batters (6.3 K/9).
Lorenzen has had success so far by throwing what scouts call a heavy fastball. His best pitch is a fastball that sits in the 93-95 MPH range, but he can dial it up to 97-99 when he needs to. Lorenzen uses this pitch to pound the zone and mixes a plus potential two seam fastball that sits 91-93 to induce weak contact. Both pitches have good velocity and movement, and batters have trouble doing much else other then hitting them on to the ground.
Michael's best off speed pitch is a tight, quick hitting slider he throws around 82-84 MPH that is used primarily as an out pitch. As a professional, Lorenzen also started throwing a changeup that has good speed differential compared to his fastball and good break to left handed hitters. The changeup is held back by his lack of command, however. It's not a pitch he threw in college and is something he picked up as a professional. You're most likely to see the pitch the second or third time in the order to keep lefties honest and to compliment his slider. Lorenzen will also mix in a curveball, but it's more of a show-me pitch to keep hitters off balance. He does not have good control over the pitch and does not throw it often.
There few things holding Lorenzen back at this point. Mainly, people will talk about his lack of experience and strikeouts in the minors. There aren't many pitchers that have done what Lorenzen has done. In college, he only threw about 40 innings total and has thrown about 140 as a professional. To put this in perspective, I think Johnny Cueto threw a little over 300 as a professional in the minors, and Mike Leake threw over 300 as a college pitcher and 0 in the minors. Even Major League position players that reinvented their careers as pitchers spent more time in the minors. Lorenzen has roughly half (probably even less if you count high school and stuff) the innings on his compared to Cueto and Leake. The only other concern is the lack of strikeouts from a guy that can throw in the high 90's, but I'll let you speculate whether that is from a lack of talent or because Lorenzen has been trying to get ground balls and work on his control. I lean towards the latter scenario rather than speculate he can't strike guys out. From everything I have read that slider is a bonafide out pitch that should play up and generate plenty of strikeouts in the majors.
Michael Lorenzen is a freak athlete (if you haven't seen his workout video, you should) and the organization is very high on his potential. He could also step in and be on of the best hitting pitchers in all of baseball right now. In Pensacola last year Lorenzen hit .233/.324/.433. He had 3 doubles, 1 dinger, and 7 RBI in 38 plate appearances to go with 4 sacrifices, 3 walks, and only 9 strikeouts. Not too shabby for a guy who was basically promoted straight to AA. Even with the short sample size, that is a much better slash line and OPS than Phillip Ervin put up last year, and Lorenzen was drafted as a pitcher 11 spots lower than Ervin.
As a fan, I am super excited to see Lorenzen get a chance early and as a starter. He has all the skill and ability to excel at this level, and hopefully all his hard work will pay off. Any limiting factors to his performance will most likely come from mechanical and delivery issues he still needs to work out. There have been times in the minors and spring training where Lorenzen completely lost the plate. While he has shown to be a pitcher with good control, it isn't outside the realm of possibility to expect some walks tomorrow. Remember, Mike Leake walked five in his MLB debut.
My expectation for Lorenzen tomorrow, and his starts to come, is to be a solid 5-6 inning pitcher. I'm not sure about the amount of strikeouts he will generate, but I expect him to punish the strike zone and use the stellar defense behind him. If you are looking for a flashy, high strikeout guy you will probably be disappointed. I hope you all will be able to tune in tomorrow to root on Mr. Lorenzen because I won't be afforded the opportunity. In all the prospects I've followed, there are few that seem to work as hard and carry himself as well as Michael Lorenzen does while still being so damn interesting. He's the first of the young promising starters to get a chance to show what he can do and depending on how 2015 goes we could be seeing a few more.
If you think Michael Lorenzen isn't prepared for this task mentally, you'd be dead wrong. Take a gander at the tweet he sent out this morning. Regardless of how you feel about men and women wearing their religion on their sleeve, this passage sent a shiver down my spine.
...For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10— Michael Lorenzen (@Lorenzen55) April 29, 2015
Godspeed, Michael. Set the tone.