Reds right-hander Michael Lorenzen is working out extensively as an outfielder this offseason in hopes of finding his way into an expanded, hybrid role in 2019, writes Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The organization appears to be open to the possibility of utilizing Lorenzen on the grass, though it’s as yet unclear how likely it is that he’ll ultimately do so in the regular season.
Lorenzen, 27, pitched to a 3.11 ERA with 6.0 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 0.67 HR/9 and a 50.2 percent ground-ball rate in 81 innings of relief last season. Lorenzen also emerged as a legitimate offensive weapon off the bench. A two-way star at Cal State Fullerton where he pitched and played center field, Lorenzen went 9-for-31 and belted four homers as a pinch-hitter for Cincinnati last season. That strong showing included an incredible run where he hit three pinch homers in a week’s time (video link), capped off by a grand slam.
First and foremost, Lorenzen is an important set-up/swingman option for a Cincinnati club that’s hoping to make strides in the season to come. He has his hands full already. Despite missing nearly two months to open the 2018 season, he ended up throwing 81 innings in 45 appearances, including three starts at the tail end of the season.
If Shohei Ohtani can do handle two-way duties, then perhaps Lorenzen should be given a shot. Stepping into the outfield defensively, though, would definitely represent a significant additional burden and avenue for risk. Ohtani did play the field in Japan, but was only utilized as a DH upon coming to the majors. That option isn’t available to the Reds, so they’ll need to put Lorenzen in the field at times if they want him to accrue any significant number of plate appearances.
Ultimately, it’s not clear whether it will prove all that useful for the Reds to utilize Lorenzen as a part-time outfielder. Beyond concerns with the possible impact on his pitching, the club is already fairly deep in outfield options (Jesse Winker, Scott Schebler, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Phil Ervin). And there’s good reason to be skeptical of how Lorenzen will fare if exposed to MLB pitching more regularly, though he has certainly shown enough to make it tantalizing to see more. It’s anyone’s guess how he’ll look defensively, though Lorenzen certainly seems athletic enough to handle himself just fine.
It may be that the most sensible outcome, at least early on, would be to take advantage of the flexibility on a limited basis. There are all kinds of interesting game-situation strategies that new skipper David Bell might contemplate. If nothing else, Lorenzen could still see scattered pinch-hitting opportunities as he did last year. If it proves necessary, or Lorenzen proves worthy, then perhaps a few starts would even be appropriate.
One thing that seems clear is that Lorenzen himself is on board with the possibility of a new job description. He spoke about his preparation in a recent appearance on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter link, with audio), voicing not only a willingness but an eagerness and desire for more time at the plate in 2019. Lorenzen joked that he’s “begged” the Reds for an expanded role and sounds energized by the possibility of getting some chances at the plate and in the field next season.