Name: Chris Lamb
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 185
How Acquired: Drafted in the 11th round in 2011
Sometimes it can take a little while for things to click for a player. Chris Lamb is one of those late-bloomers. The left-hander showed promise in flashes during his first two-plus professional seasons. However, it wasn’t until he made a mechanical adjustment at the start of the 2014 season that Lamb was able to find success more consistently.
Lamb came to the A’s in the 2011 draft out of Davidson College. Although Davidson is in North Carolina, Lamb was actually a local product, having grown up in Berkeley and graduated from Berkeley High.
Lamb’s career got off to a bit of a slow start. He made only a handful of appearances with the A’s Rookie League club in 2011 and then an injury kept him from making his regular season debut in 2012 until June. Lamb began the 2012 campaign in the short-season Vermont rotation, but he was quickly promoted to Low-A Beloit after four strong starts. With the Snappers, Lamb made 11 starts, but he struggled. In 59 innings, he had a 5.03 ERA and allowed 68 hits. He walked 22 and struck-out 40.
In 2013, Lamb moved into the Snappers’ bullpen. He missed nearly a month on the disabled list and finished the year with 49.2 innings pitched in 32 appearances. Lamb had mediocre numbers. His ERA was 4.53 and he had a 39:22 K:BB and 56 hits allowed.
At the start of the 2014 season, it appeared that Lamb would remain stuck in the Beloit bullpen. Six of his first seven appearances with Beloit came out of the bullpen. However, he pitched so well out of the gate that Snappers’ manager Rick Magnante began trusting Lamb with longer and longer outings. Soon he was in the starting rotation and on his way to High-A Stockton. He left the Snappers with a 2.77 ERA and a 34:7 K:BB in 26 innings.
"Now he’s staying on his pitch longer. He’s hiding it longer. His pitches are in the 'zone better." - Oakland A's bullpen coach Scott Emerson
Lamb remained in the starting rotation upon arriving in Stockton. Despite moving to a hitter-friendly environment, Lamb continued to thrive with the Ports. He was Stockton’s second-best starter in 2014 behind Seth Streich and was their go-to ace at the end of the year when Streich was sidelined by injury. Lamb threw 103.2 innings for the Ports during the regular season. He had a 3.21 ERA and a 100:36 K:BB. Lamb allowed just 92 hits and five homeruns. He struck-out a single-game best 17 batters in an August 24th start in Rancho Cucamonga. It was one of three starts in which he had at least 10 strike-outs. Lamb also had a solid start for Stockton during the post-season. He allowed two runs in 5.2 innings, striking out eight and walking none versus Visalia.
Lamb is a four-pitch pitcher – fastball, breaking ball, change-up and split-fingered fastball. He gets good movement on all of his pitches and did a much better job in 2014 of throwing strikes than he did in previous seasons. Lamb’s fastball generally sits in the 88-92 MPH range, but he was clocked as high as 94 on occasion. He uses his split-finger effectively to keep the ball on the ground. Lamb has some deception with his motion that makes his stuff play a tick better than it would if he had a more conventional delivery.
According to former A’s minor league pitching coordinator and new A’s bullpen coach Scott Emerson, the key to Lamb’s emergence this season was an adjustment he made to his delivery under the tutelage of a former big league left-hander, Beloit pitching coach Craig Lefferts.
“We really tried to get him to quiet down his delivery just a tad. He’d fly off the ball," Emerson said. "Craig Lefferts [Beloit pitching coach] and him really worked early in the season on keeping that front side from flying open. [Y]ou fly open, hitters see the ball that tad bit longer. It’s not like we didn’t know he had this good stuff before. He’s had this good stuff for years. But you fly open, you expose the ball, hitters get an advantage, plus it’s hard to control your pitches when you are not working in a straight line.“Now he’s staying on his pitch longer. He’s hiding it longer. His pitches are in the ‘zone better. He’s done a great job. He has really good stuff. He can make it move. He’s got a very good split-fingered fastball. He’s tough to pick up. He kind of has a little funky delivery.”
Because Lamb’s progress was slow his first two pro seasons, he is a little old for his level. Lamb will turn 25 midway through the 2015 season and has made only one appearance above the A-ball level in his career. However, if Lamb can continue to ride the momentum of his breakout 2014 campaign, his age won’t be a significant hindrance in his path towards the big leagues. He may ultimately be best suited for a relief role in the big leagues, but he will remain in the starting rotation to continue to refine all of his pitches as long as he is finding success in that role.