The situation: The Reds are not very good, and traded away forty of percent of their rotation two weeks ago. One of the benefits of not being very good is you get a chance to see young players perform at the big-league level, and on Tuesday the Reds will call on John Lamb to see if he might be someone they can count on for the 2016 rotation.
Background: A fifth round pick out of Laguna Hills High School in California, Lamb was at one point one of the best left-handed pitching prospects in baseball – punctuated by a dominant 2010 season that saw him reach Double-A as a teenager and post ERAs of 1.58 and 1.45 in Low- and High-A, respectively, and rank 11th in the BP 101 prior to the 2011 season. Unfortunately, the southpaw underwent Tommy John surgery that summer, and he spent the next two and a half years trying to regain that form. He appears to have done just that though, and after a solid first two months of the 2015 season – 2.67 ERA, 96 strikeouts in just over 94 innings – he was one of the key components of the deal that sent Johnny Cueto to the Royals.
Scouting report: Lamb’s fastball was once plus, but now is more of a low 90s offering, with the occasional 95 mph when he reaches back for more. There’s some run to the offering though, and with his 6-foot-4 frame he is able to get downhill plane, which he’ll need in Great American Ballpark.
One of the big keys to Lamb’s resurgence has been the development of a cutter, and it’s now one of the left-hander’s go-to pitches in the high 80s with slider-like bite. His best “true” off-speed pitch is the change though, and while it’s no longer consistently plus because of his lack of arm speed, it is an above-average offering that fades away from right-handed hitters. The curveball can no longer be called a work-in-progress because of how long he’s had to show progress; and is essentially a show-me pitch with less than ideal break, and very little depth.
While the stuff is solid, if unspectacular, the reason Lamb has been so successful in 2015 is his ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes. He repeats his delivery well from a high three-quarter arm slot, and he attacks the strike zone with all four pitches to every part of the plate.
Immediate Big League Future: Is Lamb going to be the number one starter so many – including me – thought he was going to be four years ago? Absolutely not, that ship has sailed. That being said, there’s reason to believe Lamb can be a successful big league starter as long as he continues to throw strikes with his entire arsenal. The upside here is mid-rotation starter who gives you 180-200 innings, with high-leverage reliever also a possibility because of the recent development of the cutter. – Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Impact: Lamb is an interesting case study of the post-post-post-hype prospect and a helpful reminder to fantasy managers that Tommy John recovery periods are not guaranteed to be quick and linear. Back in the halcyon days leading up to the 2011 season Lamb was lauded for his stuff and advanced pitchability, and while the stuff may not have ever quite fully come back, enough of it has that he's been able to dominate Triple-A for the better part of the year now. It would be unwise to expect his strikeout-an-inning pace to extend into the Majors, but he's missing bats at a significant enough rate to where it shouldn't surprise anyone if it does. And while he's a rookie pitcher subject to the same caveats about consistency as any, he's a mature 25 now with a commendable record of perseverance through adversity.
The package adds up to one of the more interesting wildcards we're likely to see get a crack down the stretch. In a vacuum I'd like him for a fairly aggressive NL-only and deep mixed league investment, but potential buyers should be advised that he'll face a fairly tough draw out of the gate. On turn following his debut start (against the Dodgers) he'd line up for a visit from the Diamondbacks, who've been one of the most efficient offenses in baseball over the past month, followed by a return engagement with the Dodgers – always a dicey proposition for a young pitcher with limited track record. Still, for those NL-only and deep league managers with remaining stacks of FAAB cash on hand it's getting late early, and he's one of the more worthwhile gambles you'll likely be able to take down the stretch. I'd throw down $6-8 in those formats, half of that in shallower mixed formats where you need to catch a lightning arm in a bottle to get back into the mix in standard pitching categories. – Wilson Karaman