Pirates prospect Lambo thriving with 2nd chance
INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Lambo has become the trendy prospect pick who fans want to see promoted to solve the Pirates' offensive woes in right field.
It wasn't long ago his career was in jeopardy.
Major League Baseball suspended the then-Dodgers prospect 50 games in 2010 for violating the minor league drug policy, and Lambo lost most of last season to a wrist injury.
“It took me a couple of dark years to get me to go back and ask if I was giving everything I've got,” said Lambo, who ranks third in minor league baseball with 28 home runs and fourth with 87 RBI, splitting time with Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis. “Was I really working hard, and do I really care about my career? Sometimes you can take this game for granted, and it can come back to bite you.”
Lambo played nine games last season for the Gulf Coast League Pirates and credits then-manager Tom Prince for helping turn around his career.
“There were some differences, but he definitely brought out a human being that needed to be brought out,” Lambo said. “(Prince) dug deep and knew there was something in that tank, and he brought it out. I can't thank him enough because the way I was going about the game was the wrong way.”
After his suspension — MLB said he tested positive for a “drug of abuse” as opposed to a performance-enhancing substance — Lambo was traded to the Pirates organization. He had a subpar 2011 season with Altoona and Indianapolis (.236, 11 home runs, 58 RBI) before missing all but 35 games last year with a wrist injury.
“The Pirates definitely took a risk,” Lambo said. “I felt I needed to come out and prove myself and show not only the Pirates but baseball my talent. They definitely took a risk, and it's something I took to heart.”
Lambo said he rededicated himself in the offseason, putting a renewed effort into each practice and workout.
“However hard you want to work at it and however hard you're going to work at it is what you're going to get out of it,” Lambo said.
It's worked for Lambo.
“It's why people are talking, and it's why we're talking inside our organization,” Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor said. “But I think you have to look at what he's capable of doing, and does that play in the big leagues? That's the question you have to answer.”
Lambo is hitting .283 with a .569 slugging percentage this season. Since joining Indianapolis on June 8, his 41 RBI leads the International League, and he is tied for first with 14 home runs.
Production isn't a question this season, but is Treanor confident Lambo is reformed for good, or will it take more time to prove?
“I think maybe somewhere in between,” Treanor said, “but, yeah, he'll still make you shake your head with things that he'll say. But I think it's a good heart and he wants to do the right thing, so that's the plus.”
The Pirates' right fielders have ranked near the bottom of the league in offensive production. As the season progressed, Lambo has been used more frequently in right field.
In his 58 games with Altoona this season, Lambo made just two starts in right field. He started 33 in left field and 15 at first base.
Once he was promoted to Indianapolis, that trend continued, starting just three of his first 21 games in right field. Eighteen of his last 27 starts, though, have come in right field.
“We need to see him in right field,” Treanor said. “If there is one area right now that I think you look at it (in Pittsburgh), it's right field, so we're getting him the time there. It's just getting him as much exposure to different positions to prepare him if that call comes from Pittsburgh.”
That call may come sooner rather than later.
“I have to believe that if he continues to do what he's doing here, they'll take a look at him in Pittsburgh,” Treanor said.
With each home run he hits, coupled with the continued struggles of Pittsburgh right fielders, Lambo's Twitter feed is flooded with fans calling for his promotion.
While he's not focusing on the fan attention, it's also hard to ignore.
“Of course, but I'm with a great organization,” Lambo said. “We have great individuals and they know what to do, and have done their jobs for a long time. Whenever I get my call, I get my call. That's not up to me and something I don't even worry about.”
Brian Peloza is a freelance writer.