The Pirates' 'Lambino' settles in
DUNEDIN, Fla. — Now that he has settled in with the Pirates, Andrew Lambo no longer worries about getting The Look.
A year ago Lambo was one of the top prospects in the Los Angeles Dodgers' system. But on May 1, the 22-year-old outfielder was suspended 50 games for a second violation of Major League Baseball's minor league drug prevention and treatment policy. The league did not disclose what Lambo to get suspended or the reason for his first suspension.
Lambo had been in trouble before. As a high school sophomore in Reseda, Calif., he was caught smoking marijuana on school grounds. The incident could help explain why Lambo dropped to the fourth round of the 2007 draft.
When he returned from his suspension at the end of June, Lambo felt he'd changed as a person. While serving his suspension in extended spring training, he underwent counseling and owned up to his mistakes.
"There was turbulence," Lambo admitted. "I brought a lot of that upon myself."
He had hoped to be treated the same as before. Instead, Lambo noticed that teammates and team officials acted differently around him.
"In the back of my mind I thought everyone would always be looking at me like, 'He's a good kid, but ...' " Lambo said.
He was getting The Look.
The Dodgers were out of patience. At the end of July, they traded Lambo and pitcher James McDonald to the Pirates for closer Octavio Dotel.
Six weeks later Dotel was dealt to Colorado for minor league outfielder Anthony Jackson. The Dodgers essentially gave up on Lambo for a former 16th-round pick who was five years older and still in Double-A.
When the trade was being put together, Pirates farm director Kyle Stark dug into Lambo's background.
"I heard all kinds of stories about Andrew Lambo," Stark said. "We treat every guy with respect and give him a chance to shape his own reputation. Andrew got a chance to come in here and get a clean slate."
Lambo did some research, too, and heard Stark was a disciplinarian. But the two spent a lot of time together over the final few weeks of the season and found common ground.
"Kyle reads people well," Lambo said. "He sees good character and the good person inside you."
Lambo played in 26 games for Double-A Altoona and hit .275 with two homers and 10 RBI. Stark envisions Lambo hitting for power and a high average and has ticketed him for Triple-A Indianapolis to begin this season.
Lambo's defense is average, his speed adequate. He'll remain a corner outfielder for now but probably will play first base a bit this year, too.
Lambo is in camp this spring as a non-roster invitee. But if he has a breakout season, Lambo could go into 2012 as a candidate for a big league job.
With Lambo's size (6 feet 3, 210 pounds) and power potential, manager Clint Hurdle has tagged him, "The Lambino," a takeoff of Babe Ruth's nickname.
"Andrew's got the tools you want in an outfielder," Hurdle said. "I think he's in a very good place right now."
Lambo grew up in southern California as a fan of the Dodgers and Pac-10 football. He still roots for USC, but his baseball allegiance has changed.
"There are no hard feelings," Lambo said. "This is a great opportunity. I feel a lot of warm acceptance with the Pirates. I don't feel The Look. Everybody around here wants to win, and that's awesome. I'm here to play baseball. All that other stuff, it's behind me."
With a solid season in the minors, the Pirates' Andrew Lambo could secure a big-league job by 2012. Here are his minor-league stats:
388 games, .284 batting average, 1453 at-bats, 211 runs, 412 hits, 101 doubles, 7 triples, 40 home runs, 219 runs batted in, 135 walks, 317 strikeouts