The Situation: With Homer Bailey down for the foreseeable future due to a sprained elbow ligament, right-hander Michael Lorenzen gets the call from Triple-A to fill his rotation spot. Lorenzen’s big-league debut is slated for Wednesday against Central Division foe Milwaukee.
Background: Less than two years after the Reds popped an everyday college center fielder/closer in the supplemental round, and then subsequently converted him to the starting rotation, that same player will replace injured starter Bailey in the starting rotation. Working primarily in relief during his 2013 professional debut, Lorenzen pitched well across four levels as he compiled a cumulative 3.00 ERA in 22 appearances. In 2014, the Reds moved him to the rotation full time and he found considerable success with Double-A Pensacola; notching a 3.13 ERA in 24 starts, allowing less than a hit per inning during his 120 2/3 frames. Lorenzen moved to Triple-A to start the 2015 season and had posted a 2.84 ERA through three starts with Louisville.
Scouting Report: In two personal viewings last summer, Lorenzen showed the stuff to profile as a solid mid-rotation starter, though there were still kinks to iron out as his development progressed.
Lorenzen’s arsenal is anchored by an excellent two-seam fastball that sits in the 92-94 mph range and will run as high as 95 mph with hard boring action and some sink. His two-seamer is murder on opposing bats and he shows an ability to move the ball to both sides of the plate and consistently stay in the bottom third of the strike zone, allowing the pitch to exert maximum effectiveness. On top of the impressive two-seam offering, Lorenzen brings an explosive four-seam fastball to the table. His hardest offering can reach 97-98 mph when he needs a little extra and he has the ability to blow it past hitters up in the zone.
Behind the fastball, Lorenzen finds considerable success with an above-average slider that will flash plus, thanks to tight rotation and sharp vertical movement. While his best sliders will miss bats, Lorenzen’s slider typically induces weak contact; and when combined with his two-seam fastball, allows him to make quick work of hitters and keep his pitch counts low.
Lorenzen has also developed improved feel for his changeup, a pitch he began working on in earnest in 2013. Across the two starts I observed last summer, approximately six weeks apart, Lorenzen showed considerable progress with the pitch. His confidence in the changeup was evident the second time around as he kept hitters off balance, particularly those of the left-handed variety. Lorenzen also mixed in a handful of slower curveballs at times, though the pitch lacks quality and is unlikely to be useable against big-league hitters at this time.
Still learning the nuances of working in the starting rotation, Lorenzen has hurdles he must still overcome to become a Reds workhorse over the long haul. While his two-seam fastball and slider can allow him to make quick work of hitters, his mechanical consistency and command are still evolving, forcing him to throw more pitches than his raw stuff suggests he should need to get outs. In addition, Lorenzen is still building the stamina necessary to work deep into games, as well as deep into the season. With a strong, physical body and exceptional athleticism, there is reason to be optimistic that Lorenzen can gain stamina and continue progressing toward his ceiling as a no. 3 or 4 starter.
Immediate Big-League Future: The long-term prognosis for Bailey’s return remains up in the air, giving Lorenzen ample opportunity to cement himself as the present and future of the Reds starting rotation. In the short term, he is unlikely to have many prospects pushing him from the minor leagues, as right-handers Raciel Iglesias and Robert Stephenson both need additional time to polish their skills. Lorenzen has made impressive progress in the two years since leaving Cal State Fullerton, and while he has developmental steps remaining, his raw stuff, bulldog mentality, and athleticism should allow him to find success against major-league hitters. –Mark Anderson
Fantasy Impact: Lorenzen had gotten off to a nice start at Triple-A after checking in 63rd on the BP101 but narrowly missing the cut for the fantasy 101 this past offseason. Any time a shiny new starting pitcher hits the waiver wire—particularly when his fastball cracks the upper 90s—it’s worth a look, but that discrepancy between real life and fantasy ranking should tell you all you need to know about keeping expectations in check. A converted college closer, Lorenzen hasn’t yet shown he can maintain his stuff and command deep into games in his career as a starter, and his whiff rate has been downright pedestrian against minor-league competition. He’s posted above-average groundball rates during his climb up the ladder, but it’s not enough of a worm-burning profile to overcome the fantasy risk associated with his lack of whiffs, less-than-ideal ballpark context in Cincinnati, and general volatility associated with rookie starters in the big leagues.
In NL-only and medium-depth mixed leagues (think 14-plus teams) where you’re struggling to find pitching traction he’s worth a claim for his debut against a Brewers offense that currently stands dead last in team TAv. But subsequent turns for his rotation slot at Pittsburgh and U.S. Cellular both offer tough tests out of the gate if he does stick in the rotation beyond the one start. –Wilson Karaman
- 90th percentile: 3.59 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
- 50th percentile: 4.85 ERA, 1.42 WHIP
- 10th percentile: 6.22 ERA, 1.75 WHIP
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