It took him six years to get out of Double-A, but Pittsburgh Pirates outfield prospect Andrew Lambo is back in the picture as a prospect, thanks to a breakthrough 2013 campaign. He's had two brief spells on the big league roster this month but was optioned back to Altoona after the Justin Morneau trade. This was a procedural move for roster purposes and Lambo is expected back with the major league club this week for the September push.
Lambo was drafted in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007, from high school in Newbury Park, California. He was considered a supplemental or second round candidate on natural hitting ability, but an Arizona State commitment, a high school marijuana bust, and significant concerns about his makeup and maturity level knocked him down draft lists. The Dodgers were undeterred and looked wise after he hit .343/.440/.519 in rookie ball.
He followed up with a strong campaign in the Midwest League in 2008, hitting .288/.346/.462 with 15 homers. He finished the season with a week in Double-A, then returned to that level (skipping High-A) in 2009, batting .256/.311/.407 with 11 homers and an impressive 39 doubles, very credible for a 20-year-old in the Southern League.
He returned to Double-A to open 2010, but he was suspended in May after twice testing positive for recreational drug use. He also turned off scouts with a bad attitude, dovetailing with the high school worries. The Dodgers soured enough on his future that they traded him to the Pirates, along with James McDonald, for Octavio Dotel. The Pirates felt that Lambo was a potential bargain and was young enough to outgrow his problems. Overall he hit .272/.344/.397 in 73 games.
Lambo split 2011 between Double-A (.274/.345/.437 in 69 games) and Triple-A (.184/.257/.292 in 60 contests), a lackluster season overall. A hand injury limited Lambo to just 26 games for Altoona in 2012, with continued mediocre results (.250/.346/.435). He didn't look like much of a prospect entering 2013.
This has been another split season for Lambo, except this time the results have been much better: .291/.351/.559 in 58 games in Double-A, .272/.344/.589 in 62 games in Triple-A. Between Altoona and Indianapolis, he's combined for 24 doubles and 32 homers.
This is the slugging bat that the Dodgers thought they were drafting back in 2007.
Lambo is a 6-3, 210 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born August 11, 1988. He's always had the strength to be a power hitter, but until this year he didn't tap that strength consistently. Better swing mechanics have helped. Most of his power comes when he pulls the ball, although reports indicate that this season he is doing a better job taking hittable pitches the opposite way when necessary. Even with this improvement, his strikeout rate remains elevated and it is an open question what kind of batting average and OBP he'll post in the majors.
He has experience at all three outfield positions, but a mediocre arm and below average speed make left field the best fit. He can play first base if needed but he is error-prone there and needs more experience to iron out the kinks. Either way, most of his value is going to come on offense.
Scouts and coaches were intrigued with Lambo's bat since his high school days, but openly wondered if he would develop the emotional maturity to handle pro baseball, questions made worse by the '10 drug suspension. He's reportedly grown up quite a bit in the last year, with better focus on and off the field, although a scout recently told Baseball Prospectus that Lambo still "plays with a chip on his shoulder."
The pennant race will surely test his mettle.