Bob Dutton reported encouraging news about lefty prospect John Lamb – he may make his first game appearance in the first week of July, just over a year after Tommy John surgery. In a season marred by many key starting prospects suffering from ineffectiveness and with the major league staff haunted by injury, this is great news.
Going into 2011, the Royals had a slew of high-profile arms in their system. Baseball America placed five pitchers within their top 100 rankings.
Danny Duffy reached the majors and mostly struggled, came out in 2012 and looked impressive. Then a UCL tear ended his season. He just underwent successful Tommy John surgery himself. Mike Montgomery, lauded as the top prospect in the system before 2012 by Baseball America, has had a handful of exciting starts, but mostly has had the same command and control issues that plagued him last season. Jake Odorizzi has made an impression in Triple A and has jumped in front of the group as the best pitching prospect anywhere near the majors. Chris Dwyer has struggled since reaching Double A and is running out of time.
All four, along with Lamb, were top 100 prospects. Lamb, at #18, was considered the best.
There hasn’t been any indication of what level Lamb may end up at to start his rehab pitching, but he’ll probably toil in lower levels to get back to game speed with a shot at a couple of Double A starts at the end of the year. Perhaps if things go well enough, he might see a stop in Triple A, which would set him up nicely to return to that level next spring with an opportunity to make his way to Kansas City in mid-season.
It all depends on his elbow and how he’s able to regain his strength.
Lamb never relied on high velocity to be effective, though he can work in the low-90s with his fastball. His best weapon is hitting spots with his fastball. He’s a tough, smart pitcher who had control of his secondary pitches early in 2011 and looked like he might reach Omaha by season’s end.
So if he arm strength is there and the stuff returns, it’s not out of the question to see him in Triple A. It’s just unlikely.
Often, a pitcher still needs a lot of time to get back to full speed, though rehab programs and recovery times are making that regrouping window smaller and smaller in many cases. Every injury is different, so it’s not fair to hold Lamb to the standard of Stephen Strasburg, who returned to the big leagues just over a year after having Tommy John surgery. The Royals also had enough cause to hold Lamb back since he wasn’t automatic for Triple A and the Royals weren’t looking for him to contribute at the major league level this soon either.
Lamb was a trainee with Jaeger Sports, and I’m sure he’s adopted much of their long toss teachings to get back in shape. The additional arm strength may even add some zip to his fastball and help his endurance as he returns. We’ll have to see as he makes his way back and gets into games.
We have to wait on Duffy. Dwyer may never be more than a reliever, if that. Montgomery will still probably be up this year, but who knows how well he’ll be able to do. Odorizzi is the best of the bunch (thankfully). But Odorizzi alone won’t be enough when the organization ends up sniffing contention again. John Lamb would be a fine complement – so hopefully all goes well starting next month.