The more I read about John Lamb, the more I like him.

Though Brandon Finnegan is the familiar name and Cody Reed has the fastest rising stock, Lamb could be the first of the trio to make an impact at the major league level. Royals fans were clamoring for him to get the call-up early this month after Kansas City had lost four straight. If not for a couple of more experienced options, he might well have gotten it.

With about 24 hours having passed since the Johnny Cueto trade broke and slightly less since we learned who the Reds were getting back, there has been plenty time for reaction pieces and scouting reports to come to the light of day. Here’s a rundown of what we know about John Lamb.

Background

Lamb’s pro career encountered some adversity before it even started. As a well-regarded (but not can’t-miss) high school lefty with a good delivery and natural fastball movement, Lamb was high-round material heading into the 2008 draft (he ended up being taken in the fifth round as the 145th overall pick). However, a car accident suffered during his senior year of high school kept him from pitching that summer and kept him from making his professional debut until 2009.

One thing you’re going to hear about Lamb when looking through his past scouting reports is ‘poise’. His competitive but level-headed temperament impressed scouts early on, even when his stuff wasn’t anything extraordinary. In his second professional season—2010—a Pine Tar Press scouting report made note of his clean, repeatable mechanics and composure in the face of a bad start and an incredibly small strike zone. In 2011, Lamb’s feel for pitching was a major selling point in tandem with his advanced (for his age) arsenal.

Lamb’s repertoire coming out of high school was pretty close to ideal for a young lefty—a fastball with natural arm-side run that sat firmly 90-93 MPH out of the draft which he was able to crank up to 94-95 on occasion (which showed up in game action somewhere between the 2010 and 2011 seasons), a changeup which was devastatingly effective because of the velocity differential (77-81 MPH) and similar movement to his four-seamer, and a curveball which had obvious deficiencies (not enough break for how slow it was, chief among them) but could be worked on with the coaching staff.

Needless to say, when he reached Double-A in 2010 (as a 20 year-old) John Lamb shot up the prospect rankings the following offseason. Marc Hulet ranked him fifth in a stacked Royals system in February 2011 (behind Moustakas, Hosmer, Myers, and the legendary Mike Montgomery). Baseball America anointed him the 18th-best prospect in baseball and fourth in the Kansas City system; Baseball Prospectus had him 11th and fifth amongst the Royals. A lot of scouts had him either interchangeable with or slightly better than Montgomery. Overall, only Julio Teheran, Jameson Taillon, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and Aroldis Chapman were the young pitchers consistently ranked above Lamb.

And then, Tommy John came calling. After starting 2011 decently in eight starts at Double-A (although his strikeout rate tumbled down to 14.8% and his walk rate stayed at 8.7%), he left his May 19 outing and elected to undergo the surgery a couple weeks later. Tommy John surgery has become so routine and young players so consistently come back from it that it’s easy to forget it’s a major operation that can have complications and negative consequences for some.

For Lamb, he was one of the unlucky ones. He returned in time for 13 innings in Rookie-class ball, but (despite pushing his strikeout rate back up to above 23%) struggled mightily. The arm strength—and with it, his velocity—seemed to be gone. Pitchers occasionally lose a couple notches on their fastball immediately after coming back from Tommy John (though, just as occasionally, pitchers gain a tick or two), but Lamb had hemorrhaged MPHs. Worse still, it lasted well beyond 2012 for him.

From a couple 2013 scouting reports, Lamb was only hitting between 86-89 MPH with his four-seamer and occasionally resting as low as 84-85 with it. That diminished velocity, of course, diminished the movement he had on his fastball and rendered his changeup ineffective. The command was still there, allowing him to cut down on the amount of walks he surrendered (4.8%, close to a career-best rate). That largely led to him jumping all the way to Triple-A towards the end of the season.

He started getting some velocity back with a full year at Triple-A in 2014—up to resting around 91-92 MPH, though he would often dip down around 89 when he went deep into games—while refining a cut fastball he had tinkered with before Tommy John surgery and developed further after the operation (to compensate for the loss of his effective changeup). More encouraging still was Lamb getting through 138.1 innings without significant injury and posting a better strikeout rate.

His 2015

As mentioned above, Royals fans were asking for Lamb’s promotion when injuries and poor form were ravaging the MLB rotation. Largely, that was because he’s looked like he has it all back this season. The fastball is routinely 91-93 MPH, but he can now crank it back up to 95-96 when needed. With that renewed velocity (and movement) on the four-seamer, Lamb’s changeup is also back to its old self—he’s showing good movement on it again and great deception, keeping his arm at the same speed and angle as his fastball. The curveball is tighter, with more of Barry Zito-esque feel to it (slow—high 70s in velocity—but good 12-6 movement) and the cutter he’s developed over the past couple seasons adds another average-or-better pitch to his repertoire.

Chris Mitchell at Fangraphs had some pretty encouraging comparables to Lamb’s 2015 performance, belying most people’s ho-hum attitude towards him now. There’s reason to be optimistic when combining his renewed stuff, his comps, and his actual 2015 statistics.

John Lamb has improved upon almost all his deficiencies and it’s showing up: He’s posting near-bests in strikeout rate (25.1%), walk rate (7.6%), WHIP (1.16), strand rate (75.6%), homers per nine (0.67), ERA (2.67), and FIP (3.57) at the highest level he has ever pitched at. Furthermore, being a (former) member of the Royals organization, he’s been pitching in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

The reputation of the PCL hasn’t troubled him much. He had one of his best starts of the year June 1 in Albuquerque—the most offensively-slanted park in all of Triple-A—going eight strong innings and surrendering just two hits and three walks against five strikeouts. June 23 was an even better outing against a pretty impressive Iowa Cubs team (which at the time included Schwarber as well as Alcantara and Olt), allowing two runs over seven innings but striking out 10 while walking none. His last outing before the trade came against the Oklahoma City Dodgers, giving up one run (a Chris Heisey home run) on four hits over six, walking just one.

Lasting deep into games has been an occasional problem for Lamb this season. He can rack up a lot of pitches in just four or five innings (he has seven outings in 2015 where he’s thrown over 90 in an outing of under six innings, including one 106-pitch performance that was a five-inning stint), so it seems he still has some trouble retiring batters early in the count. From a cursory glance over his game logs, he worked counts full with some regularity.

The (Near) Future

Lamb will report initially to Triple-A, but it seems safe to assume he’ll be the first to pop up in Cincinnati of the three young lefties (so long as Cincinnati commits to stretching Brandon Finnegan out as a starter). Lamb’s poise and command are MLB-ready without question and now that his stuff is close to what it used to be he has the specific set of skills needed to be a serviceable fifth starter.

There’s not a lot of reason to expect much more than that (though, considering the other two players in the Cueto trade, getting a few years of Lamb at the back-end of the rotation is just fine and dandy), but John Lamb’s track record of pitching IQ, poise, and command might hold the potential for something better. As Kiley McDaniel states in his follow-up to the Cueto trade, “one or two out of every ten of these type of pitchers turns into something better than a fifth starter.” Those intangible factors are usually what can elevate a pitcher with mediocre offerings into a mid-rotation workhorse.

John Lamb now has the luxury of not experiencing playoff chase-caliber pressure when he gets his MLB call-up at last. His tumultuous journey through pro ball makes him easy to root for. His once-lofty standing amongst prospects gives some justification to hope for him to be more than a spot-starter/long reliever. His trajectory implies that he’s continuing to improve at 25 years old, after parts of seven seasons in the minor leagues. He’s the good sort of lottery ticket—a player whom the Reds would be happy to have provide depth and has potential to become something better. If he makes good on that potential, this trade becomes a real feather in Walt Jocketty’s transactional hat.

 

51 Responses

  1. Tom Gray

    I like all 3 prospects. Perhaps Lamb is most ready (or soonest) to be LH SP for Reds in 2015 (or 2016 at the latest).

  2. zaglamir

    Great breakdown. If you stack Lamb next to Cingrani, Lorenzen, DeScalfani, and Bailey… there’s a lot of upside in the rotation. It’s not the sure thing that Cueto, Leake, Arroyo, Bailey, whoever was. But it certainly looks like a section of the team that could be viewed as a strength if they all pan out or even maintain their current stuff.

      • zaglamir

        Well, yes. It’s not like they’re going to kill it this year or probably even next year. That’s a lot of youth in the rotation. But if they’re trading away the sunflower seeds, we weren’t going to compete next year anyway. There’s a lot of upside that could come with some seasoning. I was pretty skeptical about blowing up the team, given the relative barren-ness of the farm. But, a return like this restores my faith a bit.

    • docmike

      Don’t forget about Iglesias (already with the Reds) and Stephenson (probably in the 2016 rotation).

      • zaglamir

        Very true, I was just throwing out names from the top of my head. That’s a lot of “possible SP.” If even half of them turn out as good as projected, the Redlegs will be in good shape in the starting pitcher department.

      • ohiojimw

        The trick is they need to figure out which half are keepers reasonably quickly because they probably are going to have to trade (at least) a couple of them for position help over the off season.

  3. redmountain

    I am very happy with the trade and if you look at what they are saying in KC they got fleeced. I think that all three will help the Reds in the future. This is now three starters off last year’s team that were traded for players who have helped the Reds and are younger or the same age as the players they were traded for. Lets see what else Jocketty can do with the Leake trade.

    • Tom Gray

      It appears Jocketty knows how to be GM more than some give him credit here. That’s SOME not all or even most.

      • Frogger

        Come now. I agree he made a good trade here, but lets not get carried away. A GM that fails to find a top of the order bat in 5 years of running an organization ain’t that good. Very few of the current Red’s were drafted by him. Abysmal job in my opinion. However, in typical Red Fan fashion we actually praise the guy for not screwing up a Johnny Cueto trade. Jockety joined a team with immense talent especially in the rotation, and failed to capitalize. (division titles mean nothing)

      • Tom Gray

        He traded well at STL and has done so at CIN too.

        His STL teams won 6 division titles and NL pennant. His CIN teams won 2 division titles (first in 15 years).

        He’s a good GM. We’re not. We’re just fans.

      • greenmtred

        Division titles mean nothing? The teams that win them are, by definition, among the best in baseball. Only one team can win the WS.

      • Frogger

        I agree he did well with the Cardinals. I am sure we can disagree on how much credit is his, but I give you that one. What has he done with the Reds? The players that won several years ago were not drafted by him. He got the Latos deal done, but that wasn’t a steal and he didn’t draft the talent that landed Latos. I am not the all or nothing guy. Jockety deserves credit on some signings and trades, but be honest. The team was winning the division, and now it will be going for last place only 2-3 years later. That is all on management. He is the decision maker that got us here. Our bullpen stinks but lets draft relievers and hope to make them starters…. He is consistently behind the curb. I would define Jockety as an ok GM. The Reds will need a good if not great manager to reach Castellini’s goal.

      • Tom Gray

        Bob Howsam (among best GM ever) won 2 WS, 4 NL pennants, and 5 division titles as Reds GM for 11 or 12 years.

        Jocketty won 1 WS, 2 NL pennants, and 7 division titles in about the same amount of time. Not Howsam but not far off.

        Most of us here have won 0 WS, 0 NL pennants, and 0 division titles.

      • tct

        In trades that involve prospects, where he’s had to listen to his scouting department, he’s done pretty well. But in all other areas, he’s been brutal. His free agent signings and extensions have been horrible. Multi year contracts for guys like Skip, Hannahan, Ludwick, Broxton, Marshall, Parra, etc.. He’s also been unable to fill gaping needs through mid season trades; when Ludwick went down in 2013, when Votto went down last year.

        The frustrating thing about Walt is that he walked into a perfect situation with a cheap, young, homegrown core. All he needed to do was add the surrounding pieces. In 2010 and 2012, he did ok in that respect. But ever since the Choo trade, he hasn’t done anything to help the team win.

      • Tom Gray

        Ludwick was very good until he got hurt. Broxton pitched very well for Reds. Parra has done well as LH reliever. Marshall has been injured. Schumaker leads MLB in most PH in 2015. Hannahn was injured also.

      • zaglamir

        Citing “most PH” is not particularly convincing when his BA is .220 and his OBP is .300. He’s been 33% worse than the average major leaguer this year.

      • Frogger

        That comment was for TCT. Anyone defending Ludwick signing etc…. Your on your own, jeez.

      • Shchi Cossack

        The Choo trade was brilliant, but it only worked because the Arizona GM was a major bonehead and opened the barn door without the horses properly stabled. The Indians simply took advantage of his ineptness and the Reds benefited by finally aquiring a legitimate leadoff hitter for one season, even if he had to play out of position. Who was that GM anyway? I don’t think he works for the snakes any longer and certainly doesn’t work as a GM any longer. What GM worth his salt would have given him a serious job in baseball operations after such bonehead moves?

      • Dan

        I have more faith in Jocketty than I do in Price.

    • jeffversion1

      Well, they don’t have Lamb anymore, so I’d say they were definitely fleeced.

    • reaganspad

      Walt got absolutely schooled by the Cubs in giving them Travis Wood, who was equal to Mike Leake at the time.

      Latos trade (first one) was not great. The second one was better. The Byrd trade was horrible and 2 years to late on the transaction.

      Rolen was value for declining value but I will give that one a push.

      Krivsky was much better at making trades and acquiring talent than Walt

      • Tom Gray

        Travis Wood was never equal to Mike Leake or even close.

        Latos was superb for the Reds in 2012 and 2013 after coming from SD.

        Byrd trade is good. Reds got starting OF with power. PHIL got a maybe SP.

        Rolen was a great acquisition. Encarnacion developed into power hitter for TOR.

        Jocketty traded for Mark McGuire, Jim Edmonds, and other stars at STL.

        Do some research.

      • BigRedMike

        Disagree that the Byrd trade is good, not sure how Byrd has helped this team and gave up a young starter. Hopefully, Byrd will be gone soon and the Reds are close to last place, not Byrd’s fault, but, he is clearly not a difference maker.

      • lwblogger2

        I agree with you on all but the Byrd trade. I don’t hate that move but don’t think it was a particularly good trade either. Lively will be in the Phils rotation next year or perhaps even sooner when/if Hammels is dealt. I also consider the Rolen trade a good one for both clubs involved.

      • Tom Gray

        Reds needed LF with power. Byrd is LF with power.

        Reds didn’t need AA RH SP in 2015. Plenty of those in Reds MiLB system.

        Good trade for 2015.

      • earmbrister

        Agree that Walt had done VERY WELL in the trading department. I’d also disagree with LW (who I quite often agree with) about the Byrd trade. We had a gaping hole in LF, and Byrd (even with the injury) has been a capable answer. Seeing Lively as a lock for the Phillies rotation in 2016, if not sooner, is a stretch considering he’s sporting a 1.424 WHIP and 6.4 SO/9 in AA Reading.

      • docmike

        Travis Wood did look like a LH Mike Leake at the time of the trade. But they last few years have proved that Walt traded the correct one, as Leake has carved out a nice career as a #3 starter, while Wood was unable to keep his place in a spotty rotation and has since been relegated to bullpen duty. That Cubs trade looks like a push to me, as neither club has benefited much from it.

        The Latos trade was a push as well, but both clubs benefited in that case. Grandal has developed into a terrific catcher, Alonso has been decent, and Boxberger has been excellent. But Latos give a huge lift to a team that probably should have won it all in 2012, and gave the team three years of a solid #2 starter behind Cueto. He was then himself flipped for Desclfani and Wallach. So, good trade for both.

        The Simon trade looks like a win so far, as Suarez has shown that his bat is good enough to play every day. Meanwhile, Simon has predictably come back to earth after a hot start. The Byrd trade is still TBD, depending on how Ben Lively turns out, and if Byrd can himself be flipped before the deadline.

        Finally, I suspect this Cueto trade will end up being a win-win for both teams. KC will hopefully win a World Series, and the Reds get some young arms for the future rotation or as trade chips for more offense.

      • Tom Gray

        Win Win trades are usually the best ones (so said Bob Howsam back in the day).

    • Frogger

      Apples to Oranges Tom. Completely different era. Different challenges etc… I will not be the one to dismiss Jockety’s accomplishments. He earned them, but I will not let anyone give him a pass on our current situation because he did well in St. Louis.

  4. aceistheplace2

    Sure do have lots of young pitching.
    By my count:
    Lorenzen
    DeScalfani
    Iglesias
    Cingranni
    Moscot
    Howard
    Travesio
    Stephenson
    Garritt

    All these arms to Pair with Homer Bailey.

    Did I forget anyone?

    • tct

      Could be a very interesting spring training next year. You could have only one spot in the rotation guaranteed, as I think Disco has done enough to guarantee a spot nest year. But the other 4 spots could be a competition between Iglesias, Finnegan, Moscot, Lorenzen, Stephenson, Lamb, and Cingrani with Homer still recovering.

      This trade was a win to those who wanted to see the Reds do a quick rebuild, or reload if you prefer. Because in the long run, the Reds need more bats in their system. But if you are just talking about 2016 and 2017, I think it’s clear that they needed pitching more as Votto, Frazier, Bruce, Meso, Suarez, Cozart, BP, and Hamilton will all be here for at least the next two years, assuming no one is traded. But the pitching staff is already bad and they will be losing their 2 best starters, and possibly their best reliever next year.

    • Kevin Michell

      That’s not even including the three we got for Cueto (though Reed is obviously a couple more years off).

      I love seeing those names stacked together. That’s quite the talent pool.

      Also, you have to think there’s a possibility one or two become bullpen studs down the line. May not have to spend as much on 1 yr/2 yr bullpen deals in 2017 and beyond, then you can spend more elsewhere, yada yada yada…

  5. Evan armstrong

    Reds call up catcher from AA…is Pena on his way out?

    • Shchi Cossack

      The Reds will not need to replace Queto on the 25-man roster until Thursday so might as well add a bat to the 25-man roster until Thursday when a replacement starter is needed. It is a curious move since they had to DFA Dominguez off the 40-man roster to call up Skipworth.

      Skipworth has put up a consistent .830+ OPS in AA Pensacola (except for the last 4 games with a .000/.125/.000 slash). Nothing against Pena, but I do hope that WJ can move him before the deadline. He was a solid backup catcher and clubhouse addition, but there should be no future for Pena as a Reds player.

      • docmike

        Skipworth was already on the 40-man roster from the time he spent on the Reds earlier this year. They DFA’d Dominguez to clear a spot for either Lamb or Finnegan, both of whom had to go onto our 40-man (the other spot had been Cueto’s).

  6. Playtowin

    Lamb could turn out to be very good. Time will tell. You can never have too much pitching.

  7. lwblogger2

    I think Lamb can be solid. I like the K-rate and the BB-rate. I like the ERA and the reports about his velocity and changeup. I like that he’s playing with a cutter. I don’t like the deep counts and am wondering if he’s nibbling or if it’s more a product of not having the stuff to put hitters away. If it’s the former, then perhaps he just needs to trust his stuff more. He seems to be able to throw it over when he wants to based on the low BB-rate and high K-rate. Upside is probably a 2-3 starter and assuming health (as with all players, pitchers especially), floor is probably decent bullpen arm.