The Bucs created a little stir when they announced that Andrew Lambo, 25, was getting the call to the show tonight. The outfielder has been having a career year with 31 HR, 97 RBI a .284 BA and .350 OBP split between Altoona and Indy, and the Pirates are looking for some right field pop.
Lambo didn't exactly drop out of the blue. When he came to the Pirates in 2010, he had started the season as one of Dodgers' shining young stars. But as a high school draftee, LA (and in hindsight, the Pirates) may have been a little aggressive in moving him along; he tread water in AA for five long years as his prospect status sunk. A 50 game suspension for weed in 2010 while a Dodger farmhand didn't help his cause, either.
In 2011, the Pirates sent him to Indy in mid-season, and he fizzled. Last year, he started at Altoona, but hamate surgery cut his season short. This campaign, though, has been his breakout year; his power numbers at AAA Indy are even better than the ones he had for the AA Altoona Curve.
And therein lies the question: Is he having a career year or a breakout year? At the age of 25, Lambo is still young enough to be a prospect, even if the original glow has dimmed; just look at Jordy Mercer. But has he finally figured it out or is he just having one of those seasons where everything falls into place?
Well, that's what the Pirates are about to find out. We assume the Bucs called him up to play him, and for the Cards series and beyond, a lineup of righties is penciled in on the Pirate dance card. It's likely that he'll start as JT's new platoon partner, with Travis Snider on the DL and Alex Presley back at Indy.
It's also possible, given Tabata's lack of power, that Lambo gets an everyday shot for at least a short spell. His career splits aren't great - nor are they a chasm - and Bucco RF'ers have put up a mere .231 BA/.366 slugging %/75 OPS+ against southpaws, so the standards he has to better aren't very lofty.
Lambo has his Achilles' Heel, and that's K's. After hovering around the 20-21% rate during most of his career, this year it's risen to 26%. So you may be looking at Pedro Alvarez walk/whiff rates with Garrett Jones production. And that's probably a tradeoff the Pirates can live with if Lambo can lose an occasional baseball and drive in a couple of runs from RF. Like Jones, he's not much of a runner and a so-so defensive player who has spent some time at first; he's played there 19 times this year.
That's the role he was brought in to fill - to play RF and free Jones to play 1B against righties while providing a mid-lineup presence. Lambo is not a long-term answer in right field; the Pirates are hoping that Gregory Polanco can fly through the system ala Starling Marte to claim that spot, arriving maybe as soon as next summer.
But Lambo could stick as a younger, cheaper Jones in 2014 if he passes this year's audition. And that's the kind of performance the Bucs are looking for in the next few weeks.