Let’s talk about Andrew Lambo

For much of the summer, there's been a slowly growing call for Andrew Lambo's promotion to Pittsburgh. Lambo's been hot all year and his promotion from Altoona to Indianapolis in early June did nothing to slow him down. He's hit for great power with 28 home runs between the two levels this year and he's mauled right-handed pitching, which are two things that the Pirates' right fielders have been unable to do since Travis Snider cooled off (possibly due to his toe injury) sometime in mid-May. 

With the Pirates failing to make a trade for a bat before Wednesday's trade deadline, the calls for Lambo have increased to a dull roar. The Pirates' right field options are now awfully limited. Snider's injury is a bit of an unknown and his ability to produce when healthy is in question. Jose Tabata is a nice fourth outfielder, but not productive enough to play every day in right. Alex Presley struggles to get on base, though he's shown at least a little bit of pop in his time in the Majors. Presley and Tabata probably wouldn't be terrible as a platoon, but they probably wouldn't be all that good, either. They've got questionable defensive value in right, too, since Tabata's a below-average outfielder and Presley has a weak arm. The only trade option that's certain to pass through waivers is Alex Rios, who the Pirates apparently cooled quite a bit on before the deadline.

That leaves Lambo, who's hitting .274/.340/.581 to go with those 14 homers in his 49 games with Indianapolis. For the season it's a .283/.346/.569 line. The 28 homers are nice, but it's also worth pointing out that Lambo's striking out a lot (25.9% of plate appearances with Indy) and he's not drawing a ton of walks (9.0% with Indy). His performance in Double-A this year came five full years after his initial promotion to the level; he played eight games with Double-A Jacksonville in the Dodgers' system as a 19-year old in 2008. After their 2010 trade for him, the Pirates tried Lambo in Triple-A in 2011 with ugly results, then he missed much of 2012 with a hamate injury (which is apparently practicaly a pre-req for Pirates' minor leaguers). 

The reason that story is important is because it actually reminds me a whole lot of Alex Presley. Presley spent two years at High-A Lynchburg doing absolutely nothing at the plate, then suddenly in 2010 (at 24, the same age Lambo is now) he started crushing the ball with Altoona and Indianapolis, which earned him a September call-up. When he got off to a hot start with Indy again in 2011, he earned longer looks with the Bucs both in 2011 and 2012. The comparison isn't perfect (Lambo was a high school draftee and a good prospect that flew through the low minors and got stuck in Double-A, Presley was a college draftee that looked like a complete non-prospect for two years; plus, Lambo has more power than Presley). 

I'm not trying to get negative on Lambo's season here: it's awfully encouraging to have a guy that's only 24 years hitting 14 homers in 49 games at Triple-A. There's nothing wrong with that at all, especially when it seemed like Lambo was a busted prospect four months ago. There certainly might be something there and it's worth considering finding out before Gregory Polanco hits is way to Pittsburgh. My concern is that the heat of a pennant race isn't necessarily the best time to find out if a fringe prospect with a low walk rate and a high strikeout rate can pick up the large end of a big league platoon, a year after he was mired in Double-A at the age of 23. That's not to say it's not worth a shot, just that I don't think that calling Lambo up right now is necessarily an obvious decision that has to be made, nor is it something that's a slam dunk to work if it does happen.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.