To look at his statline, you’d never guess there was much of a problem. Starting the year in Double A Northwest Arkansas, John Lamb had carried a 3.09 ERA over 35 innings as a 20-year-old southpaw.
Now, just over a year removed from Low-A, Lamb faces potential Tommy John surgery.
This setback slows what has been a meteoric rise through the ranks of the Royals farm system, but what could it mean for the player many considered the top Royals pitching prospect heading into 2011?
The signs were there – Lamb’s velocity was far lower than the low-to-mid-nineties we’ve come to expect. He was working around the high-80s in some games. There were reports of discomfort early in the season and he was finally shut down in his last start in the first inning.
The good news, if there is any, is that if Lamb’s going to have an injury, the elbow is better than the shoulder.
Nobody will ever hope for an injury to a player (or I’d hope not, at least), but in a way, at least knowing something is damaged (and correctable) helps. Tommy John surgery isn’t the scary procedure it used to be and many pitchers come back at full strength. Stephen Strasburg had the surgery in September 2010 and has started a throwing program already.
What’s important is for the Royals to be patient. If Lamb opts for surgery (and the way Dayton Moore talks about the situation, it seems inevitable), he can expect at least a year of rehabilitation to regain arm strength. That worst thing that could happen would be to try to take shortcuts.
Fortunately, Lamb is young and has plenty of career ahead of him. He might make it to the majors a little later than many expected, but it won’t be by that much as long as his elbow returns to form following whatever procedure he has in store for him.
Lamb’s also ran into adversity in the past and turned out alright. After a car accident broke his elbow in high school, he still managed to pitch in the Texas League Championship before his 21st birthday. He has a strong connection to family, and his father, James, is very involved in his training and career. His demeanor is regarded as beyond what one would expect from a player of his age, so if anyone’s going to make a successful return from something like this, it’s Lamb.
These injuries underscore the importance of depth within a baseball organization. Lamb getting hurt in the past would derail an entire rebuilding movement. As it is now, there are other players to step in. If Chris Dwyer can turn it around or Buddy Baumann keeps pitching well, they fill the left-handed void in Lamb’s absence. Jake Odorizzi has been pitching well in Wilmington, as has Noel Arguelles, both of whom could step up to Double A this month.
There’s no doubt that Lamb’s injury sets the Royals back, but it’s not a death blow and he should recover without issue. It’s just likely that we’ll have to wait a while to see him back on the mound and on his way towards Kansas City.