Rockies prospect Nolan Arenado off to hot start this spring

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Chris Nelson entered spring training as the overwhelming favorite to open the season as the Rockies’ starting third baseman, but prospect Nolan Arenado is doing his best to force his way into the conversation.

Arenado homered in his third consecutive game this afternoon against the Mariners, taking fellow prospect Taijuan Walker deep in the fourth inning. The 21-year-old is now hitting .412 (7-for-17) over seven games this spring while his four homers are tied with Indians’ non-roster invitee Ryan Raburn for the most in the Cactus League.

Baseball America ranked Arenado as the game’s No. 22 prospect last offseason, but his stock took a tumble after he batted .285/.337/.428 with 12 home runs, 56 RBI and a .766 OPS in 134 games with Double-A Tulsa. The modest power output saw him drop to No. 62 overall in BA’s rankings this spring. It’s dangerous to make major roster decisions based off spring training results and there are service time considerations involved, so the most likely scenario is that Arenado begins the season with Triple-A Colorado Springs, but the Rockies could be faced with a tough choice if he continues to tear the cover off the ball.

Reds having Michael Lorenzen prepare as a two-way player

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For decades, a legitimate “two-way player” — a player who functions as both a pitcher and as a position player — was nothing but a fantasy. The skill sets required for both are too distinct and require too much prep work, it was thought. The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani shattered that illusion in 2018, posting a .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances as a hitter while posting a 3.31 ERA in 51 2/3 innings as a pitcher.

Since then, several more players have been considered in two-way roles. The Rangers signed Matt Davidson earlier this month and could potentially use him as a corner infielder as well as a reliever. Also earlier this month, James Loney signed with the independent Atlantic League’s Sugar Land Skeeters, who plan to use him as both a first baseman and as a pitcher.

You can add Michael Lorenzen of the Reds to that list. MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports that the Reds will have Lorenzen prepare this spring as a two-way player. He could both start and relieve while occasionally playing in the outfield. Lorenzen, in fact, took batting practice with the outfielders on Thursday. Previously, he had taken batting practice as extra work following a workout with fellow pitchers.

Lorenzen said, “It’s fantastic, the effort they’re putting in. A lot of the excuses were, ‘You know, we don’t want to overwork him.’ Well, let’s just sit down and talk about it then. They were willing to sit down and talk about it, which is one of the reasons why I love this staff so much and why I think the front office did a great job [hiring] this staff. They’re willing to find solutions for problems.”

New manager David Bell said, “We’ve put together a plan for the whole spring, knowing we can adjust it at any time. We didn’t want to go into each day not knowing what he’s going to do. We all felt better, he did, too. He was part of putting it together.”

Lorenzen, 27, pitched 81 innings last year with a 3.11 ERA and a 54/34 K/BB ratio. He’s one of baseball’s best-hitting pitchers as well. Last year, he swatted four homers and knocked in 10 runs in 34 trips to the plate. The last pitcher to hit at least four homers in a season was the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, who did it in both 2014 (four) and 2015 (five). Lorenzen also posted a 1.043 OPS. According to Baseball Reference, there have been only 11 pitchers to OPS over 1.000 (min. 30 PA). The only ones to do it in the 2000’s are Lorenzen last year, Micah Owings in 2007 (1.033) and Dontrelle Willis in 2011 (1.032).