Andrew Lambo Working at First Base; Hopes to Win Open Spot

Andrew Lambo is the top internal option for the Pirates' first base position. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Andrew Lambo is the top internal option for the Pirates’ first base position. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Coming into the off-season, it looked like the Pittsburgh Pirates would be looking to address their first base need through free agency. They went after James Loney, who signed with the Rays. They’ve been connected to about every single trade option at one point in time this off-season, but a lot of those options have been traded away. They traded for Chris McGuiness about a week ago to provide another option out of Triple-A. As of right now, it looks like the team could be staying internal for their first base needs. The top internal option would be Andrew Lambo.

Lambo is traditionally an outfielder, but has been making the move to first base in the last year. He has played 41 career games at first base, with 19 of those coming in 2013. Over the off-season he went to Venezuela to play Winter Ball, getting some extra work in at the position.

“As an individual standpoint, started off a little slow,” Lambo said of his time in Venezuela. “Finished strong, but definitely got some work in at first base.”

The overall hitting line wasn’t strong. Lambo had a .228/.311/.337 line in 92 at-bats. He did finish strong as he said, hitting for a .324/.395/.441 line in the final 34 at-bats. The more important thing was the additional time at first base, especially with the Pirates still having an opening. Lambo started nine of his 27 games at first, and also got some late inning work in a few other games. In total he had 57 innings at the position over the off-season. That’s not a lot, but every little bit helps.

“It’s not Mars to me. I’m aware of it,” Lambo said of playing first base. “I’ve played there before. It’s just all about getting the game speed. That was what I wanted to do in Venezuela, was get that game speed. It’s a little quicker than in the outfield. In the outfield you’ve got a little more time. In the infield you’re at the corner there, so it’s coming at you quick. That was the biggest adjustment was getting the hang of that. I had to put in the work. I wanted to get better at it. We were out there every single day, getting a hundred ground balls. I was just wanting to get better at the position every single day. I feel like I did, but I feel like there’s always room for improvement.”

Pirates fans aren’t looking at the first base position favorably, due to the lack of moves this off-season. The Pirates saw Garrett Jones and Justin Morneau leave via free agency. They were also connected to a lot of options, but came up empty. Lambo is looking at the situation as an opportunity.

“We lost a couple of guys, a couple of valuable guys, but that means other guys have to step in and take on the role. I’m very excited by that,” Lambo said. “Unfortunately we lost Garrett, but now it’s time for some other people to step up. It’s a great opportunity and I’m very excited to take on that challenge.”

In previous years, there would be no question about whether Lambo should be the starter for the Pirates. He’s coming off a huge season where he combined for 32 minor league home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, with a .282/.347/.574 line. I can’t recall a time where that kind of season didn’t almost guarantee a starting role the following season. Lambo was one of the top 50 prospects in baseball prior to the 2009 season, but saw his career stall at the Double-A level for several years. Things finally came together last year, and all at a still young age of 24. Lambo attributed the change to his mentality.

Lambo hit for a .922 OPS with 32 homers in the minors in 2013. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Lambo hit for a .922 OPS with 32 homers in the minors in 2013. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

“Mechanically I felt like it was always there, but I think it was just the mentality of how I prepared for all of the games and how I went about my business,” Lambo said of his success. “Kind of continued it to the major league level. Didn’t really get an opportunity because we were in a close race, and we needed some other guys to go in there and take care of business. I had a great experience of going in there and learning from those guys. From [Marlon] Byrd and some of the veteran guys, and it was awesome. It was a great experience learning from Byrd, and Morneau, and [Russell Martin].”

The question is whether the hitting was a one time deal, or whether it was a sign that Lambo has figured it all out. The hitting in Double-A could be viewed with an asterisk, due to the amount of time Lambo spent at the level. The hitting in Triple-A provides more confidence that Lambo has it figured out, as his numbers improved after the jump to Triple-A. He even showed a few flashes of power in his limited time in the majors.

“You want to carry it over, absolutely,” Lambo said about repeating his success from last year in 2014. “That’s my goal. That’s pretty much all I want to do is just continue to get better, and continue the consistency you want to have. That’s what you kind of see with everyday big leaguers is the consistency is always there, no matter what. That’s what you want to do, and I want to be consistent as possible, and I feel it’s only going to get better and better.”

The Pirates could still add a first baseman, which would make Lambo an option in right field, or a Plan B at first base out of Triple-A. It’s hard to say what his upside could be, due to his unusual career path. He got on the radar early in his career out of high school, and because of that it seems like he’s been around forever and is an older veteran minor leaguer. He’s only 25 years old, which isn’t extremely young, but is still age appropriate for a prospect making the jump to the majors. If the Pirates did give him the first base job, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. They’re always going to be a team that needs to find out what they’ve got when they have a guy hitting 32 homers in the minors at the age of 24.

“In my mind, I want to be a Major League All-Star. I don’t want to settle for anything other than that,” Lambo said. “Every single day I wake up, it’s how do I better myself to become a Major League All-Star? Right now, our goal is to try and make this team, and show this staff that they can trust me and have faith in me to play wherever they want me to play at the big league level.”

  • Still need a first baseman to platoon with Gaby. Just can’t get on board with Lambo being the answer.

  • gold glove 1Baseman is just a silly term. almost an oxymoron imo

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    January 6, 2014 10:27 pm

    I will be rooting for him to succeed this year – and be the Bucs’ answer at first base, even if its still a platoon situation with Gaby.

  • The biggest question mark for the upcoming season IMO . I hope he knocks the cover off the ball but with him getting the majority of playing time at first base I wonder just how that is all going to work out in the long run .

  • Lambo is as long a shot as there might be in becoming a MLB-quality First Baseman. It will take soft hands, quick feet, and the mental instincts that are not developed in a partial season, no matter how much you work at it or want it. When a guy like Lambo with an above average bat came into the Dodgers system and then the Pirates system, the experts in the developmental system look for any possible way to get the prospect bat into the majors. He was not seriously exposed to 1B because he probably did not exhibit any of the traits I mentioned. Of course, if he comes in and becomes a HR machine like Brandon Moss has managed to do in Oakland, the Pirates may choose to eat the errors in favor of the offense. But, that would fly in the face of the whole Pirate theory of collecting ground ball SP’s who pitch to contact and emphasize a strong infield defense. I like Gaby Sanchez to play full time, but if the Pirates can develop a young 1B prospect like a McGuiness or Lambo, that could provide a great fallback position for the future. I still think the Pirates will have a solid LH hitting, good defensive 1B in place before the circus folds its tents in late March and moves North. There are teams who have surplus first basemen, and instead of chasing, NH has positioned himself to be the guy somebody will call and offer a deal – I wonder who will be first to make that call.

    • My understanding is that, if a prospect can plan any position other than first, then that’s where they get time in PIT’s system. Players have a better chance of transitioning from any position to first than from first to any other position. I’m not saying that he’ll be a golden glove guy but he with reps he should be able to become an adequate defender. Joey Votto originally played 1B like a matador, but he made defense a focus and is now fairly respectable.

    • Not sure how you like Sanchez playing full time when the man can’t hit right handed pitching?? It’s not like he is a gold glove first baseman either. Solid yes, not great. Lets see how Lambo looks in the spring before saying he can’t play 1B.

  • Has a great attitude. I look forward to seeing how he plays first base in the spring.

  • It sounds that Lambo has grown up. The talent is there, all we needed was the maturity.

    In my youth (last century….literally 🙂 ), I played OF until the legs started to lose their ‘bounce’. I moved to 1b and became rather proficient at it. If EYE can do it, Andy can!!!!

  • Great piece on Lambo. So many people were knocking him for the poor hitting in Venezuela, but I always thought the main reason for him being there was to get time at first. Anytime you have a player learning a new position, it is normal to see a struggle with the bat. Better in Venezuela than in Pittsburgh or Indy.