A convoy of Royals officials trekked to Omaha last Wednesday for an evening to honor senior pitching adviser Bill Fischer.
The event coincided with John Lamb’s start for the Class AAA Storm Chasers. The front-office contingent witnessed first hand another productive outing from Lamb, who gave up one earned run in five innings.
“He threw the ball good,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “Lambo threw the ball fine.”
Five days later, Lamb delivered one of the finest starts of his seven years in the minors. He struck out five across eight scoreless innings on Monday afternoon against Albuquerque. It was the longest outing of his career, and it reduced his ERA to 2.74.
A month away from his 25th birthday, Lamb may never reach the heights predicted for him years ago, when Baseball America rated him the No. 18 prospect in baseball heading into the 2011 season. Lamb underwent Tommy John surgery that summer and underwent an arduous, halting rehabilitation process.
Four years later, Lamb continues to build a case to make his major-league debut in 2015. With the big-league rotation still scuffling, Lamb looks like the organization’s best option in Class AAA.
“If we needed somebody to go up, and there was an opportunity, I don’t think any of us would hesitate to make that recommendation,” assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said.
Lamb has maintained fastball velocity from 91 to 93 mph, Picollo indicated. He has been clocked as high as 96 mph. With the Royals executive in the house last week he touched 94.
Before surgery, Lamb schooled younger hitters with a deceptive, effortless fastball and a precocious changeup. After he tore his ulnar collateral ligament, he lost some velocity and he tipped his offspeed pitches. When he tried to throw a changeup or a curveball, his arm slowed down and telegraphed his intentions to hitters. Lamb has corrected this somewhat, Picollo said.
“His changeup is looking more like the changeup he had prior to surgery, with good arm speed and deception,” Picollo said. “And the curveball’s got better shape. So there’s a lot of things pointing in the right direction. And he’s doing a much better job being aware of the running game as well.”
His arm speed is still too slow on his curveball, Picollo indicated. Lamb is trying to improve the pitch during bullpen sessions. He also has resumed throwing a slider in the bullpen, but has yet to throw in a game.
“We think he needs an added pitch,” Picollo said. “It’s certainly not going to hurt him. Not that it’s going to be a plus-plus pitch for him, but it’s something that’s going to disrupt the timing of the hitter, and give you a different look.”
In 2011, as part of Baseball America’s famed veneration of the Royals prospects, five of their pitchers ranked in the top 100. The events of the past few seasons have reminded how hard it is to transform potential into production. Of those five, only Danny Duffy has pitched for the Royals in 2015 — and he currently resides on the disabled list.
Chris Dwyer is toiling as a reliever in Omaha. The team traded Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery to Tampa Bay as part of the package to acquire James Shields and Wade Davis. Odorizzi has become a useful starter. Montgomery has spent the past three seasons in Class AAA.
That leaves Lamb. He may still make a mark in the majors, and he may arrive this season. But what he can contribute remains a mystery.
“The only difference between now and a couple years ago is we’re seeing similar-type stuff, but the difference is age,” Picollo said. “The window is a little bit more closed for him. Because there’s still getting to the big leagues and becoming a good big-league pitcher.
“There’s two distinct things there, and that’s something I’ve learned the last few years. Just because they get to the big leagues doesn’t mean they’re ready to compete in the big leagues. Or, they’re not at their ceiling.
“There’s very few guys that jump into the big leagues and immediately make the impact that you would like, or think they can make. So he still has that growing to do, as well.”
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