The outfielder was the top prospect in the Dodgers’ system and the 49th best prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America, prior to the 2009 season. After struggling at the plate, and dealing with a suspension for recreational drug use, the Dodgers traded him away to the Pirates along with James McDonald in exchange for Octavio Dotel. Lambo had sporadic periods of success with the Pirates, but largely has struggled, to the point where he’s rarely mentioned among the top outfield depth in the upper levels.
“Those are always going to go up and down. One minute you’re going to be the man, the next minute you’re not. That’s just part of the game. That’s a part of baseball,” Lambo said about his fall from top prospect status. “You’ve got to continue to put up, and to be consistent, and I don’t think that in the past that I’ve been consistent. Not only offensive, just all around. That’s why, right now, when you grow, get a little older, you start to understand the importance of coming in with a fresh, new mentality. And I think that I’ve kind of dedicated the off-season and this Spring Training to having an aggressive-positive mindset of just executing and playing baseball, playing hard.”
One of the big things Lambo struggled with last year was his hitting against left-handers. The left-handed hitter hasn’t always struggled against southpaws. In the past he’s had some even splits, including some years where his numbers were better against left-handers. Of course his issues in 2011 weren’t just limited to struggling against left-handers.
“Last year, beginning, I couldn’t hit anybody,” Lambo said with a laugh. “Lefty or righty, I wasn’t going out there and really swinging it.”
He struggled at the start of the season, getting demoted from Triple-A to Double-A. His woes continued at the Double-A level until a strong finish to the season partially turned things around. Going forward, he says his approach will be the same, regardless of what side the pitcher throws from.
“I keep the same approach in general,” Lambo said. “Lefties and righties, my approach is still the same. Stay through the ball, stay middle.”
The 2012 season will mark the fifth year that Lambo has spent at the Double-A level. He arrived at the end of the year in 2008, played there in 2009 and 2010, and returned there in 2011, after being demoted from Triple-A.
“It’s a challenge, and you’ve got to either rise up, or you crumble,” Lambo said of the return to Double-A. “That’s the way I’m looking at it, and that’s the way I think you have to look at it overall.”
One advantage for the outfielder is his age. Despite spending so much time at the level, Lambo is only 23, and doesn’t turn 24 until August. But the Pirates’ outfield situation is getting more crowded by the day. Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley will start the year in the majors, while Starling Marte and Robbie Grossman give the team two top prospects in the upper levels. That means Lambo is going to have to rebound quickly, or risk being further lost in the fold.
So far this spring his hitting has been mixed. I’ve seen him struggle against left-handers, but I also watched him homer off of lefty Nathan Baker last week. I’ve seen him hit right-handers hard at times, though not every time. The real test will come when the regular season rolls around.
HOWARD WORKS ON DEFENSE, RELENTLESS HITTING
Justin Howard was taken by the Pirates in the 24th round of the 2010 draft out of the University of New Mexico. The college senior went to West Virginia last year where he put up decent results, but nothing close to the numbers he put up in New Mexico. Howard hit for a .262 average in West Virginia, with a .762 OPS and six homers over 450 at-bats.
Howard worked on a mental approach to hitting over the off-season, taking a relentless approach at the plate, and never wavering.
“Last year in West Virginia I would kind of let the pitcher dictate my approach, and that’s not how it’s supposed to be,” Howard said about his 2011 season. “I need to control the game, I need to set my plan, what I’m going to do.”
Howard was mostly an outfielder in New Mexico, but also played some first base. He had a similar role in 2011, playing in the outfield at the start of the year, then getting more time at first base after Matt Curry moved up to Altoona. His 2012 season could be similar. He profiles as a guy who could start at Bradenton, although first base will be taken at the level by Alex Dickerson. That puts Howard in line to get more playing time in the outfield than it does at first base. Howard prepared for both in the off-season.
“I put a lot of emphasis on [defense] in the off-season, because I want to give my manager confidence in me to go ‘He can play first base, he can play left, he can play right.’ Just kind of put me wherever they want to and know I’m going to make that play for them,” Howard said.
He’s not a guy who profiles for a lot of power, despite a strong build. Howard does have a good bat and good hitting skills, so if he’s going to make it, he will need to return to his old hitting ways, putting up a high average and doing so on a consistent basis.
“You look at some of the guys, what separates the guys from Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues is all who can be consistent. Last year I wasn’t as consistent as I want to be, or I can be.”
**Starling Marte is fast. He smacked a double off Joel Hanrahan today, and it wasn’t a sure double. The ball was hit to the gap in shallow left-center. Marte used his speed to beat out the throw to second base. On a similar hit later, Chase d’Arnaud could only manage a single and a wide turn, and d’Arnaud is also fast.
**Walker Gourley has had a few hard hit balls lately, getting a double today off Clayton Holmes.
**I’ve said before that Quincy Latimore might have some of the best power in the system. He showed that off today with a double off of Luis Heredia, and later crushed a home run against Holmes.
**I didn’t get stat lines for Holmes, Heredia, or Jake Burnette, but all three were mostly throwing in the low 90s while I was watching them. It was a very informal game. Burnette had a few really good pitches, throwing the ball down, and he showed some nice break on his off-speed pitches.
VIDEO OF THE DAY
A lot has been made in the past about how the Pirates don’t allow individual throwing programs for pitchers, and don’t allow pitchers to go beyond 120. This has been proven wrong on several occasions, most recently this Spring with Tim Alderson returning to his old long toss program.
Here is a video of Tim Alderson long tossing today, throwing to Rudy Owens, who is number 99. The video was taken with my phone, so it’s not the best quality, but you can get the idea of how far out Alderson is from the other guys around him.