Name: John Lamb
Notable 2011 Stats: 3.09 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 3 HRA, 13 BB, 22 K, 43% GB% in 35 IP with Northwest Arkansas (AA)
Why He’s This High: Lamb is a very polished lefthanded pitcher who is well ahead of the age curve. He reached Double-A in mid-2010 right around his 20th birthday after blowing through High-A with a 90/15 K/BB in 74 2/3 innings, doing so on the back of exquisite command and a good fastball/changeup combination. That earned him Baseball America’s #18 overall prospect ranking last offseason, and he ranked #38 on my list. On that list last year, I said Lamb was “an extremely polished pitcher who could wind up similar to the Mets incarnation of Johan Santana.”
Another pitcher one could compare Lamb to is Cole Hamels. While Hamels has kicked his average velocity up to ~92 mph in recent years, he initially threw around 89-92, right around where Lamb sits, and both Hamels and Lamb look to the changeup as an out pitch, with an iffy curveball as the third offering.
Lamb has a simple, repeatable delivery that allows him to throw tons of strikes, and should be able to pound the zone in the majors. At 6’4″ and 200 lbs., he’s a lean and fairly projectable pitcher who, like Hamels, could gain some velocity later in his career.
Why He’s This Low: The 500-pound elephant in the room, of course, is that Lamb underwent Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow after throwing 35 innings this season, and he certainly won’t be ready to start 2012 on time. The hope as of now is that he could be back on the mound in Northwest Arkansas around his 22nd birthday.
Of course, while the recovery rate from UCL replacements is quite high, there has to be a considerable amount of worry that his stuff won’t come all the way back after the injury and subsequent long break for rehab. Given that his stuff was more above-average than truly plus before his injury, it’s possible that he could lose a bit of velocity and turn into a stereotypical back-of-the-rotation lefty. Let’s make this clear, though: this scenario is merely possible, not probable. Nonetheless, Lamb’s near-term outlook is cloudier than that of all but a few prospects (viz. late 2011 signees, and perhaps Barret Loux) on this list.
Furthermore, Lamb has thrown 68 innings in Double-A between 2010 and 2011, and while he didn’t embarrass himself, he didn’t perform especially well, striking out just 48 while walking 26. That comes with big “young for the level” and “possibly pitching hurt” caveats, but given that Double-A is often the toughest level to transition to for minor leaguers, it’s possible that Lamb’s lack of bigtime stuff caught up to him. Clearly, his approach ran him into some problems, as his walk rate nearly doubled from High-A; that’s not going to cut the mustard for a guy who was a near-universal Top 50 prospect entering the year, especially when coupled with the injury uncertainty.
Conclusions: There’s a lot to like about Lamb. He’s always been very young for his levels and he’s never pitched badly. He brings stellar command of a fairly well-rounded arsenal, a big frame, and good mechanics to the mound.
And yet, he’s probably had the least auspicious last season-and-a-half than anyone on this list, between the merely average Double-A pitching and the injury. It could be 2013 until Lamb is back at full strength and with a somewhat near-normal workload, and by then, he’ll be 2 1/2 years removed from dominance. On the plus side, he’ll still be a few months from his 23rd birthday and almost ready for Triple-A.
If he can get back in form, the upside of a Hamels/Ricky Romero-type pitcher remains. Barring a bigtime postsurgical disaster, Lamb should still be a big-league contributor, but it could be more in the vein of John Lannan if his stuff doesn’t come all the way back and/or he can’t find a way to miss bats more reliably in the upper minors.
Previous installments in the Seedlings To Stars 2012 Top 100 Prospects:
#100 Tyler Pastornicky
#99 Henry Rodriguez
#98 Francisco Lindor
#97 Yonder Alonso
#96 Taylor Green
#95 Barret Loux
#94 Christian Yelich
#93 Ronald Torreyes
#92 Trevor Rosenthal
#91 Chad Bettis
For more on the Royals, check out Kings of Kauffman!