Dodgers' Lambo Adjusts To Life In Midwest League
Chuck Crim wasn't sure what he wanted to hear. But when he heard it, he knew.
Crim, the Dodgers' area scout for Southern California, was in a meeting with local prospect Andrew Lambo
last spring for the purpose of gauging Lambo's signability in advance of the upcoming draft. He was one of the most talented high school seniors in the nation, but it was clear to everyone that he wasn't going to be drafted high enough to reflect that.
Lambo had blown that chance two years earlier, when he had been caught smoking marijuana under the bleachers at Cleveland High in Reseda, Calif. By all accounts, it had been an isolated incident, but it had stuck to him like fly paper and was now coming back to haunt him.
"I told him he probably wasn't going to be drafted in the first round because of his background," Crim said. "And he said, 'You know what, Coach?' He always called me coach. 'I'm not worried about my signing bonus, because I will make my money in the big leagues.'
"That was when I said, 'This is my guy.' "
Lambo was not selected until the fourth round of the 2007 draft, when the Dodgers snatched him. It took a lot of convincing on the part of Crim, but Logan White, the Dodgers' assistant general manager of scouting, has always made a point of trusting his scouts.
"We certainly were well aware of everything with (Lambo),'' White said. "But there comes a time when you try to weigh the issue of whether something is going to be a problem against where the talent level lies."
The Dodgers signed Lambo for $160,000, a fair amount of money, but literally a fraction of what he would have received as a first-rounder. They immediately assigned him to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he hit .343/.440/.519 in 181 at-bats.
More importantly, he did nothing to make club officials regret their decision.
"He is a little tough on himself at times if he feels like he should have had a better at-bat. But overall, he is pretty special," Dodgers farm director De Jon Watson said. "He has the ability to slow the game down, and I think his approach is advanced for a high-school (draftee) at this stage."
Learning From The Past
Lambo, 20, doesn't shy away from talking about what happened that day during his sophomore year, well before prep baseball season started.
"My punishment was that I had to get on a program, I had to take drug rehab classes every single day, and I had to get tested," Lambo said. "I also got suspended for the first nine baseball games of my sophomore season. A lot of it was the environment I was in."
Lambo's parents figured that if his environment was to blame for his behavior, then his environment needed to change. When that school year ended, they moved the family from Reseda to Newbury Park, 35 miles to the north.
"I took care of business there. I did a little 180, turned everything around and got a scholarship to Arizona State," Lambo said.
It was clear even then, though, that Lambo wouldn't need that scholarship as long as he was willing to accept fourth-round money, something Lambo says wasn't as much a consequence of his sketchy past as it was of his inability to perform well when certain people were watching.
"I think what effected me more was some of the games I played in front of scouts," Lambo said. "That, and a lot of them said I had maturity issues. Obviously, when you hear something like that, it catches your eye."
By all accounts, though, Lambo has been all business as a professional. He has shown power for low Class A Great Lakes—he had 14 home runs through July 28—but with it came the tendencies typical of a power hitter. He had struck out 90 times in his first 380 at-bats.
"It was a big adjustment coming up here,'' Lambo said. "In the Gulf Coast League, you play 56 games. Here, we play 140. There are a lot of ups and downs, and it's all a matter of how you deal with them."
Driven To Succeed
Lambo also is playing left field for the first time, a position that could be permanent given that James Loney figures to be a longtime fixture at first base in Los Angeles.
"His biggest thing is his bat, but he has really been working hard on his defense," said Great Lakes manager Juan Bustabad, who also managed Lambo in the GCL last year. "He is trying to get better at his jumps, going to his left and right and charging ground balls when he can throw somebody out at home, or at second on balls he cuts off down the line."
Lambo is notoriously intense and hard on himself. Just before the draft, he took part in a prospect workout at Dodger Stadium in which he didn't hit well. Both Crim and White said Lambo appeared near tears as the workout concluded. But White judged the player's frustration not as a lack of toughness, but as a sign that he was driven to succeed in a way that few players are.
If the true testament of a player's character is what his teammates say about him, Crim can point to a conversation he had last summer with Dodgers pitching prospect Eric Thompson, who also was playing in the GCL.
"I asked him how he liked Andrew Lambo,'' Crim said. "And he said, 'Man, I love that guy. He comes to the ballpark every day with the same attitude, whether he goes 0-for-4 or 4-for-4.' That was when I knew this guy was going to play in the big leagues. Our game is full of peaks and valleys. The trick is to be able to deal with that adversity."
That's one aspect of the game—and of life—that Lambo has proven very capable of dealing with.