Top 30 Cincinnati Prospects: No. 6

Before the 2013 draft Cincinnati won a lottery for a competitive balance pick in the supplemental first round. They rolled the dice by investing that selection on centerfielder Michael Lorenzen and so far it appears they’re luck has held up as they’ve successfully converted him into a starting pitcher at the AA level.

In the 2013 draft Cincinnati was awarded a competitive balance pick that they cashed in on Cal St. Fullerton’s Michael Lorenzen. He’d been highly regarded three years earlier when the Rays risked a top ten pick on him, but going to college turned out to be a good financial decision because he improved his draft stock from a seventh to a supplemental first-rounder. Lorenzen finished his collegiate career as a two-way star and profiled as one of the better centerfielders in the draft. No one questioned his defense, but there were some doubts as to how well he’d hit against higher level pitching.

The Reds soon showed that they weren’t nearly as concerned about his bat as they were his arm that lit up the radar in the mid/high 90’s while closing for the Titans. Actually, during the short season after he was drafted it appeared they wanted to show it off in as many places possible because Lorenzen pitched for four different Reds affiliates before going to the Arizona Fall League. The big difference last year was that he stayed put at AA Pensacola during the entirety of his first full season. That wasn’t the only change, however because Cincinnati converted him into a starter to which he responded with a 3.13 ERA while pitching 120 innings.

The right-hander, now 23 years old, has good size for a starter at 6’3”/195#. Considering his lack of prior experience he’s already developed a surprising pitch arsenal. He relies heavily on a sinker that has been effective at inducing ground balls, shows confidence in an above-average slider that he throws in the mid-80’s, and has made good progress developing both a curve and changeup. His strikeout rate was lower than expected, but his velocity gives good reason to expect that to improve. He’ll also get the chance to increase his workload after Cincinnati was cautious with his innings in the second half of last season.

It’s a bit of a head-scratcher why he didn’t get to show his skills on the mound more at Fullerton. It’s also impressive that Cincinnati recognized potential that he could become a starter after he threw only 22 innings in his final collegiate season. He did profile high enough to be considered one of the top four centerfielders in the draft, but by the time the Reds selected him they’d already used their first pick on Phil Ervin. Though they might have been a bit presumptuous in risking the high pick on his ability to start it appears they hit the nail on the head with their prognosis. He’s a great athlete and one day might even help his team win some games at the plate or as a pinch-runner. Teams are typically protective of pitchers and Lorenzen probably won’t get much consideration for a late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield, but he has the skills to handle the job.

Now that it appears he’s mastered the AA level he’ll probably be headed to Louisville for opening day after using his non-roster invitation to Cincinnati’s spring training. There’s been no need yet to protect him with a spot on the 40-man roster, but in just a couple of years Lorenzen has worked his way from an elite college centerfielder to a starting pitcher close to making an MLB debut. Getting the call in 2015 is possible, depending on how many options the Reds need to try in rebuilding the back end of their rotation. A 2016 debut is more likely, depending on how well he fares in the International League. He has the velocity, pitch variety, the frame, and rapid development on the mound; add in some more experience and Cincinnati’s balance pick could turn out to be plenty competitive at the MLB level.

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