Kansas City Royals über prospect John Lamb was in Grand Junction Saturday night with the Chukars, making his fifth start on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery. The lefty looked good, going a season long four shutout innings and allowing just two hits with four strikeouts. Before I break down the start though, it might be good to remind Chukars fans exactly who Lamb is.
(Quick note, if you already know who Lamb is just skip down to the BREAKDOWN segment below)
A 5th round pick in the 2008 Draft out of Laguna Hills (CA) HS, Lamb fell to the Kansas City Royals as a result of missing his senior season after a car wreck. KC gave Lamb $162,000 to sign and immediately saw the investment pay off.
Lamb started his 2009 rookie season in short-season Burlington, going 2-2 with a 3.95 ERA. He was promoted to Idaho Falls mid-year and performed even better, finishing his Pioneer League stint with a 3-1 record, a 3.70 ERA and a 46/11 strikeout to walk ratio over 41.1 innings all while being named the Chukars Pitcher of the Year.
2010 is when the tattooed hurler really burst on to the national scene, however. Starting the year in Low-A Burlington (IA), Lamb dominated the Midwest League with a 1.58 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 40 IP while holding opponents to a minuscule .188 average. After just eight starts the Royals promoted Lamb to High-A Wilmington, and saw the success continue.
In Wilmington Lamb stepped his game up another notch, going 6-3 with a 1.45 ERA and 90/15 K/BB ratio in 74.2 innings. Now garnering consideration for the Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Lamb was sent to his third level of the season in Double A Northwest Arkansas. The meteoric rise slightly stalled at the advanced level (2-1, 5.45 ERA), but Lamb had officially arrived as a top prospect.
Heading into the 2011 season, Lamb was ranked as the #11 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball Prospectus while starting the season back with the Naturals. The season started off well enough with a 3.09 ERA through eight starts, but Lamb’s season was quickly ended when he injured his left (throwing) elbow, an injury that eventually required reconstructive Tommy John surgery.
Fast-forward 14 months and here we are. The now 22-year-old Lamb made four starts in the Arizona League, culminating in a hit-free, three inning outing with three Ks.
Now back with the Chukars for a second go-around, Lamb is going through the slow process of recovering his feel for pitching, his velocity on all pitches and, perhaps most importantly, his confidence to snap off a curveball.
First, lets remind everyone that this is from the viewpoint of a radio broadcaster who, while knowledgeable about baseball in his own right, is not a scout/trainer/coach/or doctor (much to the dismay of his mother). So, what did I see Saturday night?
I saw a pitcher who still clearly possesses all the intangibles and pitching prowess that helped him fly up the organizational ladder. Despite two half innings in which he had to sit on the bench for an elongated period due to the Chukars offense, Lamb still showcased plus command and an aptitude for knowing when to change speeds and location to keep the Rockies hitters off balance.
Lamb was able to throw his fastball, change-up and curveball for strikes and made it look easy. Of the two hits the lefty allowed, only the first inning hit from Pioneer League MVP David Dahl had anything on it. Most of the rest of the Grand Junction lineup appeared overmatched.
The one caveat to the performance was the radar gun. While you can never trust a stadium gun, several others have confirmed that Lamb’s fastball was sitting in the mid to upper 80’s, topping out around 87 mph. This is a far cry from the 90-94 mph that Lamb showcased before the injury.
So, what to make of the lack of umph on the heater? Velocity is often times one of the last things to come back for a pitcher when rehabbing from Tommy John. Often times, pitchers will actually pick up a mile per hour or two due to the new tendon residing in their elbow. My take is that it’s still early. Everything else was there and Lamb himself even expressed how pleasantly surprised he was at his curveball, which was often described as the weakest of his repertoire.
Perhaps the most important nugget to take away from Saturday’s start was how Lamb felt on Sunday, which was “great”. No unusual pain, no lingering fatigue, just the usual post-start soreness. In fact, Lamb said he felt so good he could absolutely pitch again that day.
Overall, it was a good day for Chukars and Royals fans alike. Lamb took another step forward in the rehab and had a good feeling elbow afterwards. The command, movement and baseball smarts are all there. Once the velocity catches back up, we should see Lamb once again fly up the minors.
ONE MORE THING
For anyone who enjoyed this article and wants to hear more straight from the horse’s mouth, I’ll be posting my pre-game interview with Mr. Lamb from Sunday’s game later today.