HEIGHT: 6-3, WEIGHT: 180, B/T: R/R
Michael Lorenzen was one of the more interesting prospects in the 2013 draft because he played both ways at Cal State Fullerton, leaving some question as to what path his career would follow. Early reports indicated that the Reds were planning on letting Lorenzen pitch AND play centerfield, but it now seems clear that they intend to develop him solely as a starting pitcher. That was likely their intention all along.
Whether pitch or play, Lorenzen brings plus athleticism, versatility, good size, and strong make-up to the table. So, those are the raw materials that the Reds will need to shape into a productive ballplayer. On the personal side, Lorenzen has a strong religious belief, going so far as to write bible verses on the baseball cards that he autographs to encourage people to look them up. Faith is a large part of his life.
The Reds obviously have faith in Lorenzen and hope he can step right in to help prop up a beleaguered farm system.
AMATEUR CAREER & DRAFT POSITION
The Reds selected Lorenzen out of Cal State Fullerton with the 38th overall pick in Competitive Balance Round A of the 2013 draft. Lorenzen was a surprising pick for a number of reasons. First, it was a touch earlier than he was expected to be taken. Second, most teams viewed him as a position player rather than a pitcher.
As a position player, Lorenzen was a plus defensive centerfielder with, naturally, a rocket for an arm. The hit tool, however, came with significant question marks attached. He seemed short on both power and on-base skill, putting a lot of pressure on the development of the hit tool. All of which led some teams to prefer him on the mound. The Reds were one of those teams.
At Fullerton, Lorenzen actually pitched very little, spending most of his time roaming the outfield. For comparison sake, he only pitched 44.2 innings while logging 596 ABs at the plate. He didn't pitch much, but when he did it was in high leverage situations.
As a sophomore, he tossed 22.0 innings in which he posted a 1.23 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 17/5 K/BB ratio, and 16 saves.
As a junior, he tossed 22.2 innings to go along with a 1.99 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 20/4 K/BB ratio, and 19 saves.
In short stints, he was very effective on the mound, but the Reds are developing him as a starting pitcher. As a starter, he won't be able to lean quite as heavily on his fastball, so he'll need to broaden his repertoire to have success the second and third times through the batting order.
The decision by MLB to move the signing deadline for draftees up allows more players to get their feet wet in professional ball in the year in which they were drafted. In Lorenzen's case, he actually had time to make four separate minor league stops. It was odd development plan.
Lorenzen tossed 1.0 inning in the Arizona rookie league, 8.1 innings in low-A Dayton, 5.2 innings for high-A Bakersfield, and 6.0 innings for double-A Pensacola. Across the four stops, Lorenzen posted a cumulative 3.00 ERA, 19/13 K/BB ratio, and a 1.50 GB/FB ratio.
It was a successful debut in that Lorenzen compiled substantial and varied experience. The performance was certainly respectable, but the sample size is too small to draw any real conclusions. I have no idea what benefit the organization saw in bouncing him around four different levels in such a short period of time, but if I had to hazard a guess I would say that they really had no idea just how much he could handle and wanted to push him to the limit to determine at which level to start him in 2014. Though, it might have been done to pair him up with certain coaches, to get him out of a hitter-friendly Bakersfield ballpark, or to get him seen by enough coaches and scouts to confirm their plan to develop him as a pitcher. Or, maybe another reason entirely.
After the season, the Reds added a fifth stop to Lorenzen's CV by sending him to the Arizona Fall League, where the results were both underwhelming and irrelevant. Another bit of experience to get him ready for his first full season of professional baseball in 2014.
During his time in the AFL, Lorenzen gave an interview in which he discussed getting acclimated to the role of starting pitcher. It was a revealing article because it showed just how raw Lorenzen really is on the mound, including the need to get a pitcher's toeplate for the very first time.
A couple of quotes of note:
"I'm just ready to compete, and I'm working my butt off to get my body in good enough shape -- in pitcher's shape, not center-field shape -- to where I have that longevity and I'm not just a power guy," Lorenzen said. "I'm still going to throw hard and I'm still going to come at you. But I think there's more of a strategy to it than just coming out and throwing my hardest and having the power breaking ball and all that."
"I think the biggest thing is just building up my arm strength, getting better command of all three of my pitches and just figuring out what kind of pitcher I'm going to be," Lorenzen said. "Just getting used to the starting role."
Lorenzen doesn't know what type of pitcher he's going to be, needs to get into pitching shape, and acclimate to the routine of starting pitching. It's encouraging how agreeable he is to the role change, but it's disconcerting how inexperienced he is with pitching. He almost comes off like the star of his little league team who excels at every position based on youthful exuberance and "aw shucks" natural ability, without really understanding the position.
Lorenzen's mechanics are clean, efficient, and smooth. He generates plus velocity with low effort mechanics. There's a lot to like, especially from a part-time pitcher. You can also readily see Lorenzen's good athleticism in the balance and body control, which should enable him to repeat his delivery. I didn't always appreciate, or maybe understand, the importance of athleticism to a pitcher until I watched A's/Rockies southpaw Brett Anderson pitch. Anderson is a wonderful talent, but he's not very athletic and it shows in his delivery, fielding, and propensity to fall down (literally). That won't be a problem for Lorenzen.
Lorenzen stands tall on the mound, which when coupled with his 6-3 stature should allow him to work on a downward plane.
After he breaks his hands, Lorenzen uses an arm swing with a bit of stab to it. Out of the glove, he drops his pitching hand straight down behind his right hip, where it lingers before coming up into throwing position. Some pitchers can do this effectively, Tim Lincecum utilizes a similar move, but Lorenzen's move seems a bit disjointed, with a longer pause behind the right hip reducing the fluidity of the arm swing. Whether it's a problem remains to be seen, but a more fluid arm swing might improve his consistency and command.
Lorenzen utilizes a very strong and high leg kick. In the leg kick, his knee comes up well past parallel and he incorporates some body coil through a small wrapping of the leg, all of which helps generate force to impart to the baseball through the kinetic chain.
Lorenzen gets into a very strong position at the apex of his leg kick. From apex, he gathers himself well before driving to the plate, maintaining his balance over the rubber. However, his drive to the plate isn't as strong as it could be and might benefit from a more aggressive and slightly longer stride. The less aggressive drive to the plate limits the explosiveness of his hip rotation, which results in a minimal differential between hip rotation and shoulder rotation. The minimal differential between the hip and shoulder rotations reduces the effectiveness of the kinetic chain and shifts more of the force generation and stress to the arm. So, his mechanics are clean and fundamentally sound, but there is some inefficiency there, too.
He throws from a high three-quarters arm slot, which may improve the movement but reduce the downward plane on his pitches. The arm action itself is very clean. His elbow maintains good position relative to the shoulder throughout his delivery and the timing is correct as he brings his arm up into proper throwing position at foot strike.
As for the follow-through, Lorenzen gets good extension that carries him out over his stride leg and should help him throw on a downward plane. He also incorporates a proper deceleration phase that should reduce injury risk. He finishes up in a balanced, proper fielding position. One of the things that I loved about Josh Ravin was that he possessed both power and balance/body control. He was able to generate top tier velocity without losing body control. Lorenzen has that same ability.
Here's a look at Lorenzen courtesy of Steve Fiorindo on YouTube:
This video shows more than enough for me to buy into Lorenzen. The mechanics are smooth without any red flags, the plus velocity is apparent, and the slurve he throws at the 0:24 mark shows the plus potential of the pitch. So, the foundation for success is there, but he's undoubtedly very raw. He's going to need to put in a lot of work, but his max projection is that of an impact starting pitcher.
If I could change one thing about his delivery, then I'd like to see a slightly longer stride and stronger drive to the plate. He should take that athleticism and body control out for a spin by being more aggressive with his lower half. If you have the body control and athleticism necessary to harness and control maximum force generation, then it seems wasteful to generate anything less than maximum force. By lengthening the stride, he'd create more room for the hips to clear and possibly increase the differential between hip and shoulder rotation.
Overall, Lorenzen has fundamentally sound pitching mechanics with room for a bit of refinement. His mechanics are a rarity in that they generate plus velocity with minimal effort, which should provide both performance and mitigation of injury risk benefits. His limited experience makes it difficult to know how effectively he'll be able to repeat his delivery, but his plus athleticism should help him in that department. Overall, his mechanics provide an impressive and encouraging developmental starting point, especially for someone who has only been a part-time pitcher to this point.
Lorenzen has two primary pitches. A fastball that sits 93-95 and touches 97 with good movement, especially arm-side run, and a hard breaking ball that has been variously described as a curveball and a slider. So, let's label it a slurve for now, but whatever the label, it's an impressive, if inconsistent, offering. It has a tight spin and biting break. If he can improve its consistency, then it's not hard to envision it buckling the knees of hapless hitters. He's also working on a third pitch, a changeup with good potential and good sink.
If Lorenzen is going to start, then he'll need to refine his secondary offerings and improve the command of his fastball. If he's going to relieve, then he'll need to improve the consistency of his breaking ball.
Given just how little Lorenzen has actually pitched, it's impressive that he already has the makings of two plus-pitches and it's natural to wonder what a little experience will do for his repertoire.
I really like Michael Lorenzen. He wasn't on my radar last draft because he's not as interesting as a position player and he spent so little time on the mound. So, it was somewhat surprising when the Reds drafted him with the 38th overall pick. However, it didn't take long for me to get on board.
The mechanics are smooth and fundamentally sound. The raw stuff flashes plus. The physical stature is good for a pitcher. The athleticism could allow him to effectively repeat his mechanics. Despite his limited experience on the mound, he's starting off his professional career at a fairly advanced point on the pitching development curve. The question is just how far he can advance from that starting point as his experience grows and grows.
Lorenzen is another example of a bold draft selection by the Reds front office. These bold selections really give the feeling that they really have a plan of what they want to do and are confident enough to execute it. They obviously didn't view him as anything other than a pitcher with a position player fallback option. They saw enough in Lorenzen to believe that he could be successfully converted to the rotation. And, given his clean mechanics, plus fastball, and the plus potential of his slurve, they may well be right.
If everything breaks right, then Lorenzen could develop into an impact starting pitcher. There is, however, a very wide range of potential career outcomes for Lorenzen, so he does have some real development risk.
Even so, his blend of upside and risk is enough to land him at #5 on the list.