Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Lambert was a first round selection of the St. Louis Cardinals following his 2004 collegiate season at Boston College; and joins the Tigers to complete the Mike Maroth trade. Prior to joining the BC baseball team, Lambert was a standout hockey player in New Hampshire, and started his play in the Big East as a very raw and inexperienced baseball player. As a freshman for the Eagles, Lambert notched a 9-3 record with a 2.76 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning. He was the first pitcher in league history to be named both the Pitcher of the Year and Rookie of the Year in the same season, while also becoming only the second freshman to garner Pitcher of the Year honors (Charles Nagy was the first). In addition to those lofty honors, Lambert was named to multiple All-American teams, and the All-Northeast Region 1st Team.
Chris following up his inaugural success by posting an 8-2 record in his second tour through the Big East, and garnered ABCA All-American Third Team, ABCA Northeast Region First Team, ECAC All-Star, and NCBWA District I Player of the Year. Lambert followed up his excellent sophomore season by playing for the Chatham A's in the Cape Cod League and finishing the summer with a 2.12 ERA and taking home the League's John Claffey New England Top Prospect Award. His success dipped slightly as a junior, posting only a 6-4 record and 3.04 ERA for an Eagles team that went 32-27. Despite his slight statistical downturn, Lambert was named the Big East's Co-Pitcher of the Year. He left the Eagles as the school's career leader in strikeouts and ERA.
The first round draft choice showed amazing promise for most of his first two seasons, notching a 2.58 ERA in nine starts for Peoria during his debut in the Midwest League, and a 7-1 mark with a 2.63 ERA for Palm Beach to start the 2005 season. His promotion to AA did not go smoothly, as he was knocked around to the tune of a 6.35 ERA in 18 starts for Springfield. Also during his 2005 season, he represented the St. Louis Cardinals in the annual Futures Game at All-Star weekend. A return to Springfield in 2006 garnered slightly better results, as he went 10-9 with a 5.30/1.57 line in 23 starts.
The Cardinals opted to have Lambert return to Springfield for one more try in 2007, and the results were promising with a 3.42 ERA in only five starts before he was promoted to AAA-Memphis. Working in a relief role for most of his time with Memphis, Lambert struggled to a 7.49 ERA before the trade to Detroit. His lone regular season start for the ‘Hens was spectacular, spinning six shutout innings with ten punch outs.
A fine season at Triple-A and a big league debut may have been the true coming out party for Lambert. In 26 starts (a figure that ranked 10th in the International League) for Toledo, Lambert finished with a 12-8 mark that was backed by a 3.50 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 149 1/3 innings of work. In 20 1/3 innings spanning eight appearances (three starts), Lambert certainly wasn't stellar in his big league debut, but there were signs for optimism. Lambert proved farm more hittable at the highest level, yielding 31 hits in his time on the mound, but he did still manage 15 strikeouts. There is a belief that Lambert learned a lot in his brief debut, and that he may be better prepared for the challenge of facing Major League hitters in 2009. Lambert's performance earned him two TigsTown honors, being named the TigsTown Toledo Player of the Month in July, and the TigsTown Toledo Pitcher of the Year at season's end.
Lambert's once explosive fastball has disappeared since joining the pro ranks. Once praised for a 92-94 mph heater with outstanding late life, his velocity had dipped to the 87-89 range at the end of his time in St. Louis. Through diligent work his velocity had crept back into the 89-91 range throughout much of his time at AAA in 2008. He struggles to locate his fastball throughout the zone, and even has frequent bouts with his ability to throw strikes in general. The biggest step forward Lambert needs to make is to throw quality strikes with greater regularity. If he can locate better, he should be able to avoid giving up as many hits to Major Leaguers.
His curveball and change-up are both positive pitches; working a tight overhand curve that is a solid above-average pitch. His change-up has worked as a plus pitch in the past but his command of the pitch hasn't been there, grading it down a touch as a result. When he is working with good feel of his off-speed pitches, Lambert can be a devastating pitcher.
Chris is a good athlete with a solid understanding of his defensive responsibilities on the mound. He fields his position well and moves well throughout the middle of the diamond. The largest detractor in Lambert's game is his confidence and demeanor on the mound. He has had trouble maintaining a belief in his ability and will often look defeated on the mound when things are not going his way. The organization's coaches worked with him extensively and saw strides in his ability to remain confident and poised on the mound in 2008, and there is reason to believe he may have turned a corner in his maturity.
Despite not particularly liking the nuances of the bullpen in the past, Lambert's likely future role at the Major League level is as a reliever. He has the raw stuff to become a very good bullpen option, but he must maintain a certain swagger when he steps on the mound, no matter how things are going around him.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG AAA
Chris has fatigued in each of his professional campaigns, and there are some questions about his ability to remain strong deep into a season. A move to the bullpen could help him remain stronger and more likely to help his team down the stretch.
Lambert enters spring training in 2009 with an excellent chance to impress and earn a shot on a Detroit staff that is very much in flux. He could be in competition for both the fifth spot in the rotation, as well as a key slot in the bullpen. Either way, the likelihood that Lambert pitches in Detroit again in 2009, is very high. He has enough stuff to succeed in the big leagues, and the Tigers do believe in his ability to get outs.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.