Once upon a time, John Lamb was a top twenty prospect….in all of baseball. A six foot four lefty with a monster curve. A steal in the fifth round. A future top (or near to the top) of the rotation starter. Somewhere back in those heady times, some writer (me) projected Lamb to be the Opening Day starter in 2015 (or maybe even 2014, I can’t remember). In case you’re having a hard time keeping up, I was wrong – even if it was 2015.
If you want to gauge John Lamb’s career, Google him. Weed out the ESPN, Yahoo ‘player pages’ and then start checking the dates of actual articles. Lots of information, scouting reports and what not. Now, find one from sometime after April of 2014.
That’s what happens when you have Tommy John surgery 13 starts into your AA career, struggle to get back and spend an agonizingly long period of time after you do throwing your fastball 84 mph. It’s not fair, but baseball has a tendency to be like that.
Now, let’s focus on one thing: John Lamb is still only 24 years old.
Last season, Lamb threw 138 innings at AAA and, after striking out just over five batters per nine innings in 2013, John’s strikeout rate rose to 8.5 K/9 (albeit at the expense of the highest walk rate of his career). A 3.97 earned run average in AAA doesn’t scream major starter, but it doesn’t scream give up, either. Lamb’s velocity had crept back up to the high eighties and even into the low nineties.
In July, Lamb struck 11 and allowed just one run over seven innings and followed that up with a two hit-six inning start. After a rocky four innings after those two stellar outings, Lamb then spun seven innings of one hit ball on July 30th. That was enough to generate a little buzz, a little hope.
Unfortunately, Lamb made it through six innings only once after that: allowing 24 earned runs in 33 innings (and six more unearned runs if you are skeptical of minor league scoring). End of buzz. End of hope?
John Lamb is still just 24 years old.
There is still time for Lamb to get back, or at least get to the majors. Maybe he won’t be at the front of a major league rotation anymore, but maybe he could fit in a rotation somewhere. Maybe.
While it is all part of the game and hardly rare, I hate it when young guys with promise get hurt. Lamb not only struggled to return from Tommy John, but fought other injuries as well on the way back. He lost most of 2011 and 2012. The 2013 campaign was pretty much just a debacle of ‘well, he’s got to pitch somewhere’. Maybe 2014, average as it was, is just enough success to get Lamb back on track.
Maybe next spring, John Lamb’s profile will be more about the promise of the future and less about the past.