Alex Presley was promoted today to replace Michael McKenry on the active roster. In the last two days the Pirates have replaced Travis Snider and McKenry with Presley and Tony Sanchez. The addition of Presley raised some questions of why Andrew Lambo wasn’t promoted.
Then Andrew Lambo hit his 27th homer of the year later in the evening, and those questions came up again.
I don’t know why the Pirates decided to bring up Presley instead of Lambo. However, I can think of a few pretty good reasons.
1. Andrew Lambo isn’t on the 40-man roster. There is an open spot on the 40-man roster, but that will probably be filled at the deadline. There’s the talk that the Pirates are front runners for Brian Wilson. Then there’s the possibility of adding a few players in trades. The deadline has been quiet so far, but Neal Huntington is always one of the most active GMs around this time of year. There are guys you can remove from the 40-man roster, so this issue isn’t a problem by itself. However…
2. The trade deadline is two days away. The Pirates could trade for a right-fielder tomorrow. Or Wednesday. If that happens, then whoever you’re bringing up is only up for 3-4 games. In Lambo’s case, what is the point of calling him up to the majors to play just 3-4 games before you add a right-fielder who will block him the rest of the year? And going back to number one, why clear a 40-man spot for a guy when you might only have him up for 3-4 games?
3. Andrew Lambo could be a trade chip. He doesn’t fit into the long-term plans for the Pirates, since Gregory Polanco is the future third outfielder to pair with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. Lambo isn’t quite back to the pre-2009 prospect rankings, but I’ve heard from some scouts that he is being seen as a prospect again. It’s hard to ignore 27 homers in four months at the age of 24. It can only help if the Pirates leave Lambo in Triple-A to crush the hitting at that level, rather than bringing him up to potentially struggle for a few days in the majors. If the Pirates did deal Lambo, he probably wouldn’t be the center piece of a deal, but could be a good #2-3 piece.
Now if the Pirates don’t add a right-fielder in the next two days, the situation changes. Then the Pirates might want to turn to Lambo as a Plan B. He’s got a .287/.358/.599 line in 167 at-bats at the Triple-A level, with a 12.85 AB/HR ratio. That’s a pace for 43 homers in a 550 at-bat season. You could write off his numbers in Altoona because of all the time he spent there, but the fact that he’s now doing this in Triple-A is something different.
There are some downsides. Lambo is striking out around 30% of the time, although you’d take that with his power, just like you’d take the same from Pedro Alvarez. The question is, will the power carry over to the majors? He has also been streaky in Triple-A. He had an amazing month of June, then slumped for the first half of July. He has picked things back up lately, with a .324/.378/.735 line and four homers in 34 at-bats over his last ten games.
Tonight Lambo became the first person in the Pirates minor league system to hit 27 homers in a season since Pedro Alvarez did it in 2009. The impressive thing is that Alvarez had his homers in high-A/Double-A, while Lambo has his in Double-A/Triple-A. Lambo also needed 78 fewer at-bats. I don’t think that’s power you can ignore or write off. There should be a healthy level of skepticism, since Lambo has struggled a lot the previous few years. But we should also remember that this is a guy who was once one of the top 50 prospects in baseball.
We’ve certainly seen guys go elsewhere and suddenly have their power potential click. Jose Bautista, of course. Brandon Moss did it last year with Oakland, and has 38 homers in 560 at-bats over the last two years with their team. So why can’t Lambo be another guy to add to the list? Why shouldn’t his power be seen as legit?
Personally I think the Pirates should try for a right-field upgrade on the trade market. The problem is that the market doesn’t look that strong. Alex Rios is the best guy on the market, and his value doesn’t exactly come from the bat. Plus there seem to be some attitude/hustle issues. Nate Schierholtz isn’t an everyday player, and would require a platoon partner. Hunter Pence is a rental, hasn’t been hitting for the last two years, and the Giants want a big return.
If those guys don’t come at a ridiculous price, or if a better right field option comes on the market in the next two days, then the Pirates should consider making a move to upgrade that position. However, if neither of those things occur, I’d much rather see the Pirates pass on over-paying for the weak trade market options this year, and roll the dice with the in-house option. Lambo isn’t exactly a guaranteed upgrade, but he is a 24-year-old outfielder with 27 homers in 387 at-bats this year. So it’s not like he doesn’t have any appeal.
The Pirates are also a strong all-around team with very few weaknesses. Right field is one of the few weak areas on the team, and the Pirates have been winning all season even with this weak spot. So if Lambo doesn’t work out, it’s not like the Pirates will collapse because they’re suddenly not getting production from that spot. He can only help.
I haven’t been impressed with this trade market so far. The prices seem high, the players who are available don’t seem like a big upgrade, and the Pirates don’t seem like they need to make a big splash. So if they didn’t add anyone to fill that right field void at the deadline, that wouldn’t be an issue for me. As long as Andrew Lambo came up on August 1st.
Links and Notes
**Check out the newest episode of the Pirates Prospects podcast: P3 Episode 14: Previewing the Trade Deadline For the Pirates.