Pirates' Lambo working on transition from outfield to first base

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, 9:54 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Last season, Andrew Lambo played 19 games at first base for the Pirates' Double- and Triple-A affiliates. Over the previous six seasons, he appeared in 22 games at first base.

Spending about 7 percent of his playing time at first base in the minor leagues doesn't really qualify Lambo to play that position in the majors. But the Pirates haven't yet pegged a full-time first baseman, and Lambo believes he can transition from right field to the infield.

That's why Lambo was on Field 5 at Pirate City early Monday morning, fielding grounders under the observation of coaches Nick Leyva and Gary Green.

For a half hour, Green, the minor league defensive coordinator, hit hard-hoppers and medium-speed rollers. Lambo snagged them all, then turned as if to throw out an imaginary runner at second base. Leyva, the Pirates' infield coach, provided nonstop commentary and critique.

“He does a couple things like an outfielder in the infield, but those can be addressed,” Leyva said after the workout. “What he shows you with his hands and his feet, he can play the position. It's just a matter of reps.”

Plenty of reps.

The 25-year-old Lambo tends to approach the ball like an outfielder, bending over at the waist with his face pointed straight down at the ground. An infielder will bend at the knees, using his legs to field a grounder. So Leyva demanded to see the gold “P” on the front of Lambo's hat, not the button on top of it, each time. The penalty was one lap around the field.

“I say that, because I took many a lap when I was a player,” said Leyva, 60, who played all four infield spots in his brief minor league career.

Lambo kept his knees bent and his head up, and did not have to run any laps Monday.

A left-handed thrower, Lambo also is working on how far he can shuffle away from the bag before the ball is put in play. He wants to cover the gaping hole between himself and the second baseman but can't leave too much unguarded space at the foul line.

“We're trying to develop some stuff that feels comfortable, and I think we're getting there,” Lambo said. “I'm staying easy and relaxed over there.”

A lefty hitter, Lambo could be a platoon option with Gaby Sanchez. Even if the Pirates acquire another first basemen — they have checked in on free agent Kendrys Morales — Lambo could be a safety net in case of an injury.

“We'll see if our best first-base situation is a platoon or one guy,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Lambo just needs more experience and playing time at first base.”

During the voluntary minicamp in January, Leyva got his first look at Lambo and secretly recorded video of him during fielding drills. On Sunday, Leyva showed Lambo the film and told him to critique himself.

“He was right on it,” Leyva said. “It was pretty impressive. He said, ‘I wasn't relaxed. My hands were outside my body. I was leading with my head.' He said all the right things.”

It was a sign of progress, albeit modest. It's one thing to gobble up grounders on day five of spring training and another to chase bullets off the bat of a lefty slugger like Joey Votto or Carlos Gonzalez.

“We'll see what happens when the game speeds up,” Leyva said.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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