Single-A Hickory went up against a rehabbing Stephen Strasburg on Monday, but Crawdads Will Lamb…
Lamb adjusting to the mound
Some scouts in Lamb's area believe he could've had a future as a position prospect. An excellent athlete, Lamb is a plus runner who covers plenty of ground in center with a plus arm and a loose left-handed swing at the plate.
But with a fastball that touched 95 mph in college and a relatively clean delivery––despite his relative inexperience on the mound––it's no surprise that the Rangers preferred him as a pitcher when they selected him with their second round pick in this year's MLB Draft.
Lamb isn't getting a chance to show off his offensive and defensive skills in professional baseball. But the early results on the mound are plenty promising.
Through his first 10 professional outings, Lamb has a 3.41 earned-run average in 29 innings. He has allowed 23 hits while walking 15 and striking out 36.
In his second career start––on July 16 at Everett––the 20-year-old southpaw worked four innings of no-hit, scoreless ball while walking four and striking out four. Lamb has filled up the strike zone in all but two of his outings this summer. Against Everett, he struggled to find consistency with his delivery.
"I learned a few things," Lamb said of the outing. "I had a pitch count and worked with it. There were too many walks here and there––I was flying open. My front side wasn't staying closed and the ball was flying out with a little run.
"I noticed it, came back into the dugout, and me and (Spokane pitching coach) Dave Chavarria talked about it. I capitalized on working down and making that angle with the fastball. That's about it."
When Lamb was right mechanically, he showed easy plus velocity out of a clean delivery with a loose arm action. He threw strikes low in the zone with a lively 90-95 mph fastball, climbing the ladder for swinging strikeouts on three occasions with 93-95 mph heaters.
But when Lamb lost his delivery and began flying open, his velocity dipped into the 87-91 mph range, and he began missing well up and to his arm side.
"When I'm flying open, my front shoulder leaks out and my arm drops and the ball takes off higher and to the arm side," he said. "It takes a run. It's visual for me. It's just coming back and capitalizing what I see and just making the better of it instead of walking two guys in a row."
The Virginia native started the game by relying heavily on his fastball––and he was showing excellent command of it. Overall, Lamb threw 41 of his 69 pitches for strikes. He retired the first five hitters by throwing all fastballs––16 strikes out of 21 pitches.
During his three-year career at Clemson, Lamb threw 22 innings as a freshman, 52 as a sophomore, and 24.2 this past year as a junior. He had a 5.11 ERA this season, yielding 24 hits, walking 11, and striking out 29.
While he was never a full-time pitcher until this summer, Lamb says the delivery issue isn't one he has faced in the past.
"It's always something with hitting or pitching––some small detail that you have to focus on that day," he said. "It goes back to getting back to the basics and just playing catch."
Lamb walked only two batters and fanned nine over 10 innings in his two starts after the outing at Everett. But in his last game, he walked five in five innings. The inconsistency isn't all that surprising for a prospect who is getting accustomed to pitching on a regular basis––it's just something he'll have to work through.
As Lamb looks forward to the remainder of the season, he wants to say direct to the plate with more consistency.
"I just want to focus on staying closed," said the hurler. "That's the biggest thing that I feel like I need to work on. I need to get back to using my lower half a little bit. I seem to jump out a little bit sometimes. But other than that, just keep going out and doing the daily grind."
Lamb, who turns 21 in September, also features a breaking ball and a changeup. Though he calls the 75-78 mph breaking pitch a slider, it's really more of an in-between slurve with two-plane break. Against Everett, the pitch had good tilt but he struggled to locate it after falling out of his delivery. He threw only one of five for strikes.
He actually had more success with his 81-82 mph changeup––a pitch he rarely used in college.
"In relief, it was more just going out there and throwing as hard as I could," Lamb said. "Other than that, it was just going out there and now it's more of a spot-up deal and locating, so the changeup is going to be a big part of that. I have to keep hitters off-balance. Especially with a fastball like that, they're going to be guessing fastball. So you have to throw it in there sometimes. It helped me out a lot today."
In some ways, Lamb had the look of a pitcher who lacked experience with the changeup. He dropped his arm slightly and slowed his body down a tad when he threw it. But the pitch also had good velocity separation with some life, and he located it down in the zone consistently.
Lamb threw his changeup six times, getting five strikes. The pitch induced two groundouts and a swing and miss. He credits the success to a recent adjustment he made since signing.
"In college, it was usually fastball-slider," he said. "Here, I've been working on it and toying with it a little bit. I was cutting it when I got here, and I just moved my thumb a little bit further down on the ball. It has taken that run and that sink. I'm going out there and toying with it daily."
The raw talent in Lamb's arm is evident. At his best, he features easy plus velocity while flashing two secondary pitches with potential out of a long, lean 6-foot-6 frame. As a good athlete, he should be able to repeat his delivery with more experience. It's too early to tell whether Lamb will ultimately remain a starting pitcher or end up pitching out of the bullpen.
For now, Lamb says he isn't looking too far into the future. He's just satisfied to be playing professional baseball.
"It's fun. There is no more class and no more waking up early other than for workouts. It's just what I want to do. I'm happy here."
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