Live From the AFL: Chase Lambin

There are clichés in sports. Little sayings that managers, coaches and players use to answer questions they are tired of hearing, or just don't want to answer at all. But as they say, every cliché starts with a kernel of truth. It appears that for many of the most common clichés, Chase Lambin is that kernel.

"He's as hard a worker as you'll find, he'll play anywhere, I think he'd catch if you asked him to."

That's Grand Canyon Rafters Manager Ken Oberkfell breaking out one of the most used clichés ever. 'He'll play anywhere' is usually code for, 'He's a career utility guy.' That usually means the player in question doesn't hit quite enough to play everyday, but he's athletic, versatile, solid defensively, and has a good attitude.

But here's the thing. Chase Lambin, the player in question, doesn't really fit that profile.

"He's a good hitter, a little bit of pop, his bat stays in the zone a long time," Oberkfell says. "He's got some work to do defensively, I had him two years ago, and he gets better everyday."

That's not really the whole 'hard working utility guy' profile. Oh, and another thing. The Rafters have actually asked Lambin to catch...and he's doing it.

"I'll be honest, it's not fun back there," Lambin says when asked about his new position behind the plate, "and I haven't even been in a game yet, I've just been catching guys in the bullpen. I don't even want to think about taking a foul ball off my elbow yet."

Chase Lambin really is that guy, he really will play anywhere. And with that bat, somebody's going to find a place for him to play.

Lambin struggled through the 2004 season, posting a career low .244 average in his first go around in Double-A. With rare exceptions, virtually everybody struggles when they first get to Double-A, and Lambin was no different. It's the biggest jump a player will make in minor league ball, as pitchers suddenly know where the strike zone is, how to get their breaking stuff over the plate, and what hitters are looking for and where. Lambin's struggles might not have been expected, but they certainly weren't surprising.

The top prospects adjust, and Lambin did just that. He came into 2005 with a new plan, and to say it worked is an understatement. In 2005 Lambin started back in Double-A and apparently he did more than adjust, he figured things out.

Lambin hit .331 and hit a career high 14 home runs. That might not sound like a ton of dingers, but consider this, Lambin's previous career high was 10 in 2004, in 410 at bats. His 14 this season came in just 181. Why just 181 at bats? Because when you hit like that you get promoted, and the Mets saw to it that Lambin would finish his season in Triple-A, where he hit another 10 round trippers in 211 at bats with the Norfolk Tides.

"I just got on a roll and I wasn't missing anything," Lambin said of his sudden power surge, "When you get in a groove you don't miss mistakes, and I was in a groove, it's not like I got real big or changed my swing."

So all of a sudden you have a guy thought of as a fringe prospect, some ability, but nothing to bet the house on, who is hitting over .300 for the season with 20+ homers, oh, and by the way, he plays everywhere.

"I think that could definitely be my ticket to the bigs, just being that utility guy, being able to play anywhere they need me."

And is he really comfortable with that? Mets fans are familiar with Joe McEwing, the super sub who carries as many gloves to the park as he can fit in his bag. When McEwing's name is mentioned, Lambin can't even wait for the question to finish getting asked.

"I'll be that guy all day long," Lambin says, "Not many guys can do that sort of thing, and on a 25 man roster those guys are valuable. I think I can be an everyday player, but why would I want to limit myself to just one position. The more ways I can help a ball club, the more attractive a player I am. If I broke into the bigs as a Joe McEwing type of player, I'd be proud of it. I switch hit, I'll play anywhere, even catcher."

And what about that, was it his idea?

"Oh no, I'm not that crazy," Lambin laughs, "The Mets came and asked if I'd like to, and I said sure, because it's one more way I can help the team. If I can play four or five positions, and be the emergency catcher, be a bat off the bench, it just makes me that much more attractive to the team."

So Lambin, once again, becomes the cliché.

Oberkfell laughs, "Yeah, that's Chase's M.O. Just put him wherever you need him, and he'll do the job, you can't find many players who are willing and able to do that."

Not surprisingly Lambin has a lot on his plate in the Arizona Fall League.

"I can always be working on my defense, at second, third, behind the plate, and I'm working really hard on my strike zone judgment." When Lambin answers a question, and he answers them all, he uses the word 'work' or some variation of it, all the time, over and over. At one point he uses the word six times in one sentence.

"The work is why I'm down here, just being able to work with the coaches, work with the other players out here, watching their work ethic, the way they work pitchers, the way they work the count. I'm trying to watch all of these guys, because I can take something from everybody."

It makes you tired just to listen. Lambin apologetically cuts the interview short, he's got to head down to the bullpen to warm up a pitcher. I watch as he grabs a catcher's mask and glove and jogs down to the bullpen. It's a full day for the utility guy, he was shagging fly balls before his group came in to take BP, and I pulled him away from second base, where he'd been taking ground balls, for the interview. Now he's heading to the bullpen. You have expect him to warm up the pitcher and then switch positions to work on his slider or forkball. Once again, he's being the cliché.

This kid is just everywhere on the diamond.

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