2. Peter Lambert (901 points, 32 ballots)
When the Rockies took Peter Lambert with the 44th overall pick in the 2015 draft out of San Dimas High School (San Dimas high school football rules!) and gave him a $1.495 million bonus, they put him on the same development path of the prior year’s second rounder and fellow PuRP Ryan Castellani. Namely, the Rockies handled the now 21-year-old righty very carefully, barely allowing Lambert to eclipse five innings and never allowing his pitch count to go above 90 until 2017, his third professional season.
Even with that caution, it was clear from the start that Lambert was precocious: for instance, the 6’2” righty was the youngest ERA qualifier in the High A California League by almost a year in 2017. Beyond the youth, the results were there as well. In fact, despite facing more advanced hitters and a fearsome offensive environment, Lambert actually improved his strikeout and walk rates as he moved up the ladder. The highest ERA Lambert posted entering 2018 was 4.17 in High A, which was 4th among ERA qualifiers in the league.
After handling him with kid gloves his first few professional seasons, the Rockies turned Lambert loose in Double-A in 2018 and he rewarded them with a breakout campaign that carried Lambert to Triple-A and the verge of MLB action.
Lambert started the year in Hartford, but it quickly became clear that he could handle the Eastern League just fine against competition that was 3.4 years older on average. In 15 starts with Hartford, Lambert allowed two or fewer earned runs in 12 of them, including nine quality starts. Over 92 2⁄3 innings at the level, Lambert posted a sterling 2.23 ERA (3.04 FIP) paired with a 0.99 WHIP, 7.3 K/9 rate, and 1.2 BB/9 rate.
Lambert earned a promotion to Albuquerque in the offense-friendly Pacific Coast League in late June, where he now was facing hitters that were on average 5.6 years older. Lambert found Triple-A to be more challenging, posting a 5.04 ERA in 55 1⁄3 innings over 11 starts with Albuquerque. Lambert’s strikeout numbers took a dip down to 5.0/9 and he saw an increase to 2.4 BB/9. Still, Lambert’s 4.61 FIP is indicative of some bad luck and he did finish the season strong with two scoreless starts. In all, Lambert threw 148 innings across two levels in 2018 with a combined 3.28 ERA.
Despite his Triple-A tribulations, the bottom line is that Lambert made significant strides in 2018 and ended the year ahead of where most prospect watchers thought he’d be on the development curve. To put it in perspective, Lambert (or was it three small children stacked on top of each other?) was holding his own in Triple-A at the same age as many of the college juniors that were just drafted in the 2018 MLB draft (for instance, he’s just a month older than number 1 pick Casey Mize).
Here’s some video of Lambert in Lancaster in 2017 courtesy of Baseball Census:
Lambert is praised by scouts for his command of his arsenal and likelihood to remain in the starting rotation at the big league level.
Lambert’s flaw as a prospect is the lack of a plus pitch, but he throws a ton of strikes with four weapons -- a solid-average fastball that will touch 94 to 95 mph, in addition to a well above-average changeup and an average curve and slider. He just doesn’t walk guys -- 101 in his pro career across 447⅔ innings (5.5 percent of batters faced) -- and he repeats his simple delivery well, coming from a high three-quarters slot that adds some deception. His stride could be a little longer, and he has to avoid spinning off his front heel or risk losing some of that plus control.
He looks like a fourth starter, someone who could quietly be league average for a while, although I still hold out hope he’ll find another half-grade or more of velocity before he peaks.
Lambert shows the potential for four pitches that could be at least solid. His fastball sits at 92-94 mph and peaks at 96, and he keeps it off barrels with sink, angle and very good command. His tumbling changeup may be his most consistent plus pitch, though his low-80s curveball can be even better than that at times.
Last year, Lambert added a slider that can reach the mid-80s and continues to improve as he throws it more. He repeats his clean delivery with efficiency and uses his high three-quarters arm slot to pound the bottom of the strike zone. He looks like a future No. 3 starter and perhaps more if he can get stronger and add more velocity.
Lambert’s MLB.com evaluation is headlined by 60 grades on his change-up and control, complemented by 55 grades on the fastball and curveball with a 50 on the slider.
Jon Sickels of Minor League Ball had some thoughts on Lambert in May 2018:
The basic scouting report hasn’t changed much: 90-95 fastball that’s located very well, mixed with a plus curveball and a plus change-up. He’s always thrown strikes and has demonstrated pitching feel beyond his years for, well, years.
He’s also proven to be quite durable so far, testimony to his consistency, athleticism, and efficiency. He survived the Lancaster experience with his confidence intact, which not every talented young pitcher has been able to do. That’s good training especially considering what’s ahead of him in Colorado.
Baseball Prospectus ranked Lambert 4th in the system in their recent Rockies prospect list with a 55 OFP and 50 Likely role evaluation:
Lambert is a command and pitchability righty. This is usually the type of prospect profile that forces me to stifle an involuntary yawn, but most command righties don’t dominate Double-A the way the 21-year-old Lambert did. He’s not a soft tosser, touching as high as 96 for me this year, but generally working 91-94. He’ll cut it at times and there’s enough movement and deception to keep it off the fat part of the barrel, but the pitch’s efficacy is command over movement. Lambert throws the fastball to all four quadrants and is particularly effective changing eye levels.
The changeup is his best secondary, and it plays off the fastball well. It only features 5-6 mph of velocity separation, but the firmness makes it look like the fastball right up until it tumbles off the deck, and it flashes plus. Lambert also throws a slider and a curve. The curve is better at present, showing consistent 11-5 shape, but it’s more of a spot than chase pitch at present, and can get a bit humpy at the lower end of it’s 76-81 velo band. The slider is used occasionally for a different breaking ball look right-on-right, but functions more as a cutter. Lambert is a plus athlete, repeats well, throws strikes with everything, and fields his position well. There’s a bit of projection left in his frame as well.
Lambert is an advanced pitcher who has pitched well as one of the youngest players in his league at every level up to Triple-A. His plus command and mature feel for pitching mean he’s less likely to need a conversion to the bullpen, and he does still have time on his side. I’d expect Lambert to start 2019 with Albuquerque again as the Rockies have the luxury of some good starting pitcher depth with more than five strong options at the big league level. As such, the Rockies don’t need to start Lambert’s option years until they want to call him up to the Show. Lambert is a lock to get a 40 man roster spot after the season if he hasn’t earned one earlier and he seems likely to be an option for a September call-up if the situation warrants it.
After 2018, the floor has gotten higher with Lambert and the ceiling has risen a bit as well as the results have improved against upper level competition. That’s why Lambert comfortably ranks second on this PuRPs list and is getting some top 100 love by prospect watchers. I was one of the many to rank him 2nd, with a 55 Future Value grade as a a high-probability MLB mid-rotation starter.
★ ★ ★
The number one PuRP gets unveiled tomorrow. It’s exactly who you think it is, but please read anyway!