Andrew Lambo is more than capable of hitting his way to Pittsburgh — if he can avoid strike three. Acquired from the Dodgers as part of the Octavio Dotel deal at the end of July, Lambo has twice violated minor league baseball’s drug policy, in each case testing positive for “a drug of abuse.” A third positive test could result in an end to the young outfielder‘s career.
Lambo, who recently celebrated his 22nd birthday, is currently with Pittsburgh’s Double-A affiliate, the Altoona Curve. A 4-for-34 skid has dropped his numbers to a season-low .273/.338/.404 — he was hitting north of .300 before running into a wall and injuring his shoulder in mid-August — but he remains one of the best hitting prospects in the Pirates organization. He served a 50-game suspension, after his second positive test, earlier this season.
David Laurila: How would you describe your professional career thus far?
Andrew Lambo: I think that it has been pretty productive. I’ve hit some pretty bad obstacles this year, but I think I’ve overcome them. Actually, I know I’ve overcome them. So far my pro experience has been a great learning experience. Last year was a great time for me in Double-A, even though I didn’t have the greatest of success. It was a great experience for me to better understand the concepts of the game and how to go about my business.
This year was disappointing — the 50 games — but things happen and people make mistakes. No one is going to be perfect and it’s about how you learn from your mistakes and I think that I’ve been going about that pretty well. I’ve been taking care of my business, both on and off the field, so I think that everything will fall into place.
DL: You obviously had some soul searching to do during the suspension, but beyond that, was the time you spent out of the lineup much different than it would have been had you suffered a hamstring injury?
AL: There’s a difference, because you’re definitely not injured. In the back of your mind, you know that it’s definitely not because your body isn’t up to par. But you have to move forward and move on. It was a tough time. It wasn’t fun — those 50 days weren’t fun — but you just have to move forward and change, and not worry about the past.
When you’re out 50 games, you definitely realize how much…you take advantage of baseball. You take advantage of the opportunities you have when you play, and when you don’t play. If you love baseball, like I‘m sure all of us do, you start getting weary [of not playing], so it was definitely a tough process to watch my team, just sitting on the sidelines. I was allowed to work out, and I played extended [spring training] games every day, but then once the Arizona League got started up, I wasn’t allowed to participate.
DL: After outstanding years in 2007 and 2008, you had a somewhat lackluster 2009. Why?
AL: Being 20 years old in Double-A was a good experience, but you’re going to have your struggles. If you’ve never played Double-A before…some guys really scuffle. Last year was kind of a learning experience, understanding how to go about my business, in the sense of knowing situations and stuff like that. If you’re a guy out of high school, like me, you have to kind of learn that in pro ball. Other guys get an opportunity to learn that in college and then go from there, but if you’re a high-school guy you’re learning it in pro ball and are going to have your ups and downs.
DL: What changed when you got traded from the Dodgers to the Pirates?
AL: Nothing, really. When I came back, I thought I was just going to just jump right back into things, because before I left, I was doing really good. So I missed the 50 games, and when I came back I was trying to do too much. I was trying to get all of my stats back in one at bat, so it was going a little hard, but then over the last month I’ve been feeling really good. I’ve been getting really comfy back up at the plate and things have been going good for me [Editor's note: This conversation took place right before the injury-affected 4-for-34 slump.].
DL: What was the first conversation you had with [Pirates director of player development] Kyle Stark after the trade?
AL: I was in Birmingham, Alabama when I learned the news. Kyle called me and asked, “How do you feel?” I was really excited to get this kind of opportunity. The Dodgers are a great organization and they did a lot of great things for me, but I feel that this is a really good opportunity for my career. Everybody’s ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues, and that’s pretty much what my goal is. I feel that here, my chances are going to be a whole lot better, so I’m going to have to jump right on it.
DL: The Pirates presumably did their due diligence regarding your character before making the deal. Are you aware of what they did in that respect?
AL: You know, I think the Pirates feel that I’m a good kid. I think that they know that I’m mature. I think that [the trade] was a big sign to show everybody that as much as the off-the-field issues this kid may have had, he still goes out and plays baseball hard; he plays baseball the right way. I think they know that, and I think they know I’m over that stage in my life. I’m looking to have a great career and they don’t have to worry, because I’ve put all of that behind me.
DL: Any final thoughts?
AL: I love baseball. I play baseball hard; I’m aggressive. I have fun. That’s it. Baseball is number-one in my life. That, family and God; that’s pretty much it. I think I’m a good kid. People make mistakes, and like I said, it’s about how you respond to them. You can go the other the way, or you can learn from them and go forward. I don’t want this to be a distraction to the Pirates at all. I just want to move forward and play baseball.