I can’t help but draw some parallels between the current Andrew Lambo situation and the Jeff Clement experiment at first base a few years ago. In both situations you’ve got a guy learning first base in the majors. Lambo has more experience at the position than Clement, which gives him an edge, but not enough experience to make you comfortable with his defense.
In each case the Pirates couldn’t play the player at his original position. Clement could no longer play behind the plate, and the Pirates have no need for Lambo in right field, since they’ll open the season with Travis Snider/Jose Tabata, and will eventually move to Gregory Polanco for the long-term.
The appeal for each player came with their bat, and especially their power potential. Lambo is coming off a season where he hit 33 home runs between Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors. That’s actually better than Clement, who had 21 home runs in Triple-A in 2009, with 14 of those coming in the PCL.
Going into Spring Training, there wasn’t a lot of trust that Clement could work out. Most of the distrust came over his defense, with concerns that he couldn’t play the position. Ironically, the only thing Clement did well was play defense. In the majors he hit for a .201/.237/.368 line in 154 plate appearances. The power was good, but that’s all there was offensively. Defensively, Clement had a 14.0 UZR/150 in an extremely small sample size of under 300 innings.
I remember the defensive reports that Spring were good, and my main concern with Clement was whether he could hit at the major league level. He didn’t. That’s where I’m at right now with Lambo. Everything I’ve seen from him defensively says he can handle the position. Now is the time for him to show that he can hit in the majors.
Will Lambo be successful? I don’t know. I’m not going to take anything from his Spring Training numbers. To be honest, I don’t really look at Spring Training numbers for anyone, and the only time I ever hear about them is when people talk about a player slumping, or specifically mention his numbers. That has happened a few times recently with Lambo. I’m more concerned with his entire body of work. He finally hit in Double-A last year, then dominated during his time in Triple-A.
At this point, I don’t know if there is much for Lambo to prove offensively in the minors. It’s time for him to make the jump to the majors. As I’ve been saying all winter, that’s not a comfortable situation for them to be in, but it’s a situation that small market teams need to become familiar with. A team like the Pirates always has to give a shot to a player like Lambo who has a big breakout season at a relatively young age. It’s entirely possible that this could end up like the Clement situation again, but it’s also possible that Lambo is the next Garrett Jones, giving the Pirates a good platoon bat for the next several years.
If the Pirates can add an outside option for a cheap price (aka, not giving up a top ten prospect or a potential impact guy), then that wouldn’t be a bad idea from a depth standpoint. If that doesn’t happen, then they’ll get a chance to see whether Lambo’s breakout last year was legit. He doesn’t look like he’s going to be a plus defender, but he looks like he can handle the position. My only concern now is whether he carries his hitting over from the minors to the majors.
Links and Notes
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