Coming into the off-season, it looked like the Pittsburgh Pirates would be looking to address their first base need through free agency. They went after James Loney, who signed with the Rays. They’ve been connected to about every single trade option at one point in time this off-season, but a lot of those options have been traded away. They traded for Chris McGuiness about a week ago to provide another option out of Triple-A. As of right now, it looks like the team could be staying internal for their first base needs. The top internal option would be Andrew Lambo.
Lambo is traditionally an outfielder, but has been making the move to first base in the last year. He has played 41 career games at first base, with 19 of those coming in 2013. Over the off-season he went to Venezuela to play Winter Ball, getting some extra work in at the position.
“As an individual standpoint, started off a little slow,” Lambo said of his time in Venezuela. “Finished strong, but definitely got some work in at first base.”
The overall hitting line wasn’t strong. Lambo had a .228/.311/.337 line in 92 at-bats. He did finish strong as he said, hitting for a .324/.395/.441 line in the final 34 at-bats. The more important thing was the additional time at first base, especially with the Pirates still having an opening. Lambo started nine of his 27 games at first, and also got some late inning work in a few other games. In total he had 57 innings at the position over the off-season. That’s not a lot, but every little bit helps.
“It’s not Mars to me. I’m aware of it,” Lambo said of playing first base. “I’ve played there before. It’s just all about getting the game speed. That was what I wanted to do in Venezuela, was get that game speed. It’s a little quicker than in the outfield. In the outfield you’ve got a little more time. In the infield you’re at the corner there, so it’s coming at you quick. That was the biggest adjustment was getting the hang of that. I had to put in the work. I wanted to get better at it. We were out there every single day, getting a hundred ground balls. I was just wanting to get better at the position every single day. I feel like I did, but I feel like there’s always room for improvement.”
Pirates fans aren’t looking at the first base position favorably, due to the lack of moves this off-season. The Pirates saw Garrett Jones and Justin Morneau leave via free agency. They were also connected to a lot of options, but came up empty. Lambo is looking at the situation as an opportunity.
“We lost a couple of guys, a couple of valuable guys, but that means other guys have to step in and take on the role. I’m very excited by that,” Lambo said. “Unfortunately we lost Garrett, but now it’s time for some other people to step up. It’s a great opportunity and I’m very excited to take on that challenge.”
In previous years, there would be no question about whether Lambo should be the starter for the Pirates. He’s coming off a huge season where he combined for 32 minor league home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, with a .282/.347/.574 line. I can’t recall a time where that kind of season didn’t almost guarantee a starting role the following season. Lambo was one of the top 50 prospects in baseball prior to the 2009 season, but saw his career stall at the Double-A level for several years. Things finally came together last year, and all at a still young age of 24. Lambo attributed the change to his mentality.
“Mechanically I felt like it was always there, but I think it was just the mentality of how I prepared for all of the games and how I went about my business,” Lambo said of his success. “Kind of continued it to the major league level. Didn’t really get an opportunity because we were in a close race, and we needed some other guys to go in there and take care of business. I had a great experience of going in there and learning from those guys. From [Marlon] Byrd and some of the veteran guys, and it was awesome. It was a great experience learning from Byrd, and Morneau, and [Russell Martin].”
The question is whether the hitting was a one time deal, or whether it was a sign that Lambo has figured it all out. The hitting in Double-A could be viewed with an asterisk, due to the amount of time Lambo spent at the level. The hitting in Triple-A provides more confidence that Lambo has it figured out, as his numbers improved after the jump to Triple-A. He even showed a few flashes of power in his limited time in the majors.
“You want to carry it over, absolutely,” Lambo said about repeating his success from last year in 2014. “That’s my goal. That’s pretty much all I want to do is just continue to get better, and continue the consistency you want to have. That’s what you kind of see with everyday big leaguers is the consistency is always there, no matter what. That’s what you want to do, and I want to be consistent as possible, and I feel it’s only going to get better and better.”
The Pirates could still add a first baseman, which would make Lambo an option in right field, or a Plan B at first base out of Triple-A. It’s hard to say what his upside could be, due to his unusual career path. He got on the radar early in his career out of high school, and because of that it seems like he’s been around forever and is an older veteran minor leaguer. He’s only 25 years old, which isn’t extremely young, but is still age appropriate for a prospect making the jump to the majors. If the Pirates did give him the first base job, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. They’re always going to be a team that needs to find out what they’ve got when they have a guy hitting 32 homers in the minors at the age of 24.
“In my mind, I want to be a Major League All-Star. I don’t want to settle for anything other than that,” Lambo said. “Every single day I wake up, it’s how do I better myself to become a Major League All-Star? Right now, our goal is to try and make this team, and show this staff that they can trust me and have faith in me to play wherever they want me to play at the big league level.”