Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Andrew Lambo

Andrew Lambo was selected by the Dodgers in the 4th round of the 2007 MLB Draft out of Newbury Park HS, about 50 miles outside of LA. He had been ranked as a sandwich or second round pick (#49 overall by Baseball America), but an Arizona State commitment, a high school marijuana bust, and questions about his maturity kept him on the board longer.

He played for the rookie GCL Dodgers in 2007 and started 2008 with the Class A Great Lakes Loons, where he was named a Midwest League All-Star. Lambo was promoted on quite a fast track to the AA Jacksonville Suns for a cup of coffee at the end of the year.

In 2009-10 he was with Class AA Chattanooga. He repped the Lookouts at the 2009 Southern League mid-season All-Star game, and Baseball America rated him as the organization's top outfield prospect of 2009.

He entered the 2010 season as the Dodgers' #7 prospect per BA, and things were lookin' rosy. But on May 1st, 2010, MLB suspended Lambo for 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance, identified as a non-PED "drug of abuse," thought to be weed. With that and continuing concerns about his attitude and maturity level, he and James McDonald were traded on July 31st to the Pirates for reliever Octavio Dotel. At first, J-Mac looked like a keeper; Lambo, not so much.

He struggled in 2011 at Altoona/Indy (.236, 11 home runs, 58 RBI) and then missed all but 35 games in 2012 with a hamate injury. “I wasn't mentally there,” he told Bob Cohn of the Tribune Review. “I didn't understand what was going on, wasn't playing the game the right way.” The epiphany had arrived.

Starting with the Curve in 2013, Lambo hit for the cycle on April 8th, 2013, and by early June he was promoted to Indy. He hit .284 with 24 doubles, 5 triples, 31 home runs and 97 RBI in 117 games between Altoona and Indianapolis, and would eventually be named 2013's Minor League Player of the Year by the Bucs.

His greatest recognition was when the Pirates announced in mid-August that he was coming up for his first taste of the show. He just turned 24, and the Pirates were looking for some pop in RF. Many thought he'd get an extended audition. They were wrong.

Jose Tabata came on strong in August, and then even he was planted on the bench when Marlon Byrd came to town. Lambo saw limited action as playoff races are rarely showtime for call-ups. In 33 at bats, he homered once while hitting .233, looking comfortable in the few opportunities he got. But those last six weeks didn't answer any questions regarding Lambo's future, other than indicating that he'll be with the big boys in the 2014 camp mix instead of on a bus criss-crossing Florida with the minor league group.

Defensively, he's a prototype left fielder, with at best an average arm and not much speed. In Pittsburgh, that makes you the right fielder, though his arm would be a concern. Then again, with Marlon Byrd looking for a sweet contract, Alex Presley gone, Travis Snider on thin ice and JT's inconsistent play, it may be his most likely landing spot. Lambo has played some first, though not very well. Whether that's due to inexperience - he's put on the mitt just 41 times in his minor league career - or iron hands isn't clear yet. That would also fill a hole in the Pirate dike.

It is a moot point except for team makeup; Lambo's value is on offense. The Pirates are hoping that his 2013 season on the farm is the result of growing up, not just an outlier year. It looks sustainable; his strikeout rate was about 25%, high but not outrageous for a power guy, with an acceptable 9% walk rate, which puts his usual OBP in the .340+ range.  

The question is how that will translate into MLB numbers. We didn't get much chance to find out in 2013; we'll get our chance to really evaluate Lambo next season.

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