Two and a half hours before the MLB trade deadline, the Tigers executed their first significant trade — flipping starting pitcher Michael Lorenzen to the Philadelphia Phillies. Reportedly, the returning prospect is 20-year-old second baseman Hao-Yu Lee.
Initially, the trade return for Lorenzen seems solid, but not particularly impressive. We’ve seen teams overpaying for pitchers all week and Tigers GM Scott Harris has reportedly been keeping a high asking price for his assets. On the other hand, Lorenzen is on an expiring deal. He’s been on a hot streak since being voted into the All-Star game, but doesn’t have much of a track record as a mid-rotation caliber starter. Harris doesn’t appear to have been able to convince anyone to pay for the upside he’s shown this season or generate a package deal with a reliever for a better return.
Prior to the minutes leading up to the confirmation of these trade details, Philly hadn’t been one of the teams specifically connected to the Tigers. Baltimore and Miami had reportedly expressed interest in him, and may still be among teams asking on Eduardo Rodriguez, who is Detroit’s other starting pitcher for sale.
Confirmed: Michael Lorenzen is going to the Phillies.— Cody Stavenhagen (@CodyStavenhagen) August 1, 2023
Hao-Yu Lee is heading to Detroit@jonmorosi was first
It will come as no surprise to those who are familiar with Harris and his objectives that Lee doesn’t strike out often and posts a healthy walk rate. In 64 High-A games, he’s taking a free pass in a tenth of his plate appearances, while keeping his whiff rate at 18 percent. Add in a .283 batting average and five dingers, and you’ve got a prospect who is performing quite admirably for a 20-year-old in High-A.
Oddly, despite being undersized at 5-feet-9-inches, Lee doesn’t have the agility of most ballplayers his age. Instead, he gets a surprising amount of raw power and has a swing geared to lift the ball and pepper line drives. In 2023, his batter ball outcomes have been neatly divided between line drives (24.5%), grounders (38.5%) and fly balls (37.0%)
“There’s a gap between scouts’ evaluations of Lee’s raw power during the spring of 2023 and what his measurable power output was in 2022. That might be because he missed six weeks in the middle of last season with a wrist fracture, which often causes power to return on a delay. Lee’s a thicker guy and doesn’t have deep-career power projection, but it’s reasonable to expect to see an uptick in 2023 as he gets further away from that fracture, and eyeball reports from the Carpenter Complex suggest that’s the case,” stated the FanGraphs preseason report. The gist being that Lee is probably a grade higher than he was regarded in most preseason prospect rankings.
Lee has mostly played up the middle during his professional career, but he’s not much of a defensive weapon. He projects out as an offense-driven second baseman, and that’s where he’s played the majority of his games in 2023.
Detroit fans will be able to get their eyes on Lee pretty quickly. He’s been doing well at High-A, and he will very likely be assigned to West Michigan when he joins the Tigers’ organization. A late-season promotion to Erie isn’t out of the question either, especially if the SeaWolves are in the playoff hunt or the team wants to reward Lee for a hot second half. He’s played some shortstop and third base along the way, which might help with Jace Jung ensconced at second base now for the SeaWolves. Still, Lee appears to be bound for second base long-term.
It’s not a particularly thrilling trade. We would’ve like to see Harris find a way to package a reliever with Lorenzen and get an equivalent prospect closer to the major leagues. Lee isn’t a world beater, but he’s another interesting bat who will be in the high minors next year. It’s a solid return for a few months of Lorenzen, but doesn’t move the needle that much on either the Tigers’ farm system or the major league roster’s ability to compete in the next year or two. That impression will change for the better if Lee can live up to his potential over the next few years.