Jake Lamb's loss after playing just ten games this season, was one keenly felt by the team at the time. After all, he was hitting a cool .414, with an OPS above 1.200, and twice as many walks as strikeouts. However, health is no respecter of form, and Lamb was lost to the D-backs with what was officially called a "stress reaction" in his left foot, leaving Lamb frustrated: "I couldn't pinpoint anything I did to it. It's not like I got hit by a pitch; I didn't twist my ankle or anything like on a base.. I want to be out there. I worked so hard to get here. I want to play in as many games as possible."
Thing could, however, certainly have been worse. There was concern this injury wasn't too different from the stress fracture, which cost Mark Trumbo 74 games, and arguably robbed him of much of his power last season. However, it appears Lamb and the team have been luckier, and it now looks like Lamb could perhaps return soon after the end of the upcoming road-trip through St. Louis and Milwaukee. On Tuesday, Chip Hale said, "I think we're looking at him being back in the big leagues by the first of next month. He's close." That would work out to Lamb missing little more than half the time lost by Trumbo.
The loss opened the door for prospect Yasmany Tomas, whose stay in Triple-A with Reno was barely long enough for him to try a few casino buffets, at five games. Initially, Tomas seemed a little lost at the plate: in his first nine games at the major-league level, he hit .235 with no extra-base hits. However, he seems to have become increasingly more comfortable, and over the past week has been on fire: he has an active streak of six consecutive multi-hit games, one short of the franchise record, and has got his season numbers up to .349/.391/.442, with one (admittedly, probably biased) local commentator calling him a "legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate."
Personally, it may be too early for such claims - especially with a BABIP inhabiting territory firmly tagged as unsustainable. But even allowing for some regression here, the question will need to be answered: who will be the Diamondbacks' everyday third-baseman, when Lamb returns in a week or two?
The case for Lamb
His offensive numbers were eyepopping, though are equally certain to regress, given Lamb's .440 BABIP. However, the underling figures should remain strong, with Lamb in particular appearing to work on his plate discipline. He had the same number of walks over those ten contest this season, as he did in all 37 games Lamb played in 2014. He fanned more times in one game last year (on September 4), than he had in 35 plate-appearances this season, before being hurt. Small sample size, to be sure, but the indications there are that Lamb was addressing two of the big issues seen in his approach to the game last season.
The other big plus in Lamb's favor is his defense. He has been a third-baseman his entire professional career, and even before that, starting 54 of the Washington Huskies' 55 games in his senior year at the hot corner. That's a level of experience which Tomas can't possibly hope to match, and the difference is apparent, even if you discount Lamb's greater degree of athleticism. I don't particularly knock Tomas here, who moves pretty well for his size, but it's difficult to envisage Yasmany making plays like the one shown below, pulled off by Lamb during a Cactus League game on Marxh 11.
The case for Tomas
Tomas has been... Well, let's just say, entirely unexpected. Let's start off by reviewing some of the pre-season expectations for Tomas:
- Jeff Sullivan: "Everybody agrees on Tomas' strength: his greatest asset is his raw power.. He's had issues with swings and misses, and though his swing is relatively short for a powerful hitter...wherever Tomas' contact rate ends up, he'll whiff his fair share."
- Kiley McDaniel: "The carrying tool here is raw power, which draws anywhere from 60 to 70 grades on the 20-80 scale from scouts, but the question mark is how much he will hit. Tomas has a short bat path for a power hitter and quick hands that move through the zone quickly. The tools are here for at least an average hitter, but Tomas’ plate discipline has been questioned."
- Jerry Crasnick: "What kind of player is Arizona getting in Tomas? Any scouting report on him features the word "power," with a wide array of adjectives in front of it. Big power, prolific power, all-fields power and, occasionally, jaw-dropping power."
- Alex Chamberlain: "I’m concerned about Tomas’ plate discipline. Most of his contemporaries walked more than they struck out in Cuba; Viciedo, the only one who didn’t, was recently designated for assignment by the White Sox, and yet his plate discipline in his final CNS season was still leagues better than Tomas’."
- A certain ESPN pundit: "Zero chance to play third base, for me. He's built like Pablo Sandoval, but with none of the athleticism at all. He can't even get his feet started when the ball is coming at him."
And yet, what we've got has been almost the exact opposite. There has been only one home-run in 86 at-bats so far; instead, but we've seen a strikeout rate that, at 16.3% is below league average (20.1%). True, the walk-rate could increase a bit - 6.5% compared to league average of 7.8% - but his swinging strike percentage is below the norm, and when he swings, he does tend to make contact. He's unfazed by the lack of home-runs: "Everything comes in its own time. When it's time for the balls to go over the fence, they will go over the fence. My focus is to make good contact and drive the ball. The home runs will come."
This may tie into the other notable aspect of Tomas's hitting to date: his ability to go the other way. Of his thirty hits so far, only three have been pulled to left-field, with the others almost equally split between right (13) and back up the middle to center (14). Take what they give you, appears to have been Tomas's mantra at the plate. And, indeed, in the field. He certainly hasn't been perfect at third: in the last game against the Marlins, we saw him whiff on a bare-handed attempt that a more experienced player at the position might have made. But he can hardly be said to have embarrassed himself there: it's not as if we see #NoMasTomas trending on the Twitter.
Play both Lamb and Tomas?
There are a couple of ways this could be worked. We could have a platoon, with the left-handed Lamb starting against right-handers, especially since we are perilously short of southpaw hitters. The only other lefty infield bats on the 40-man roster are Danny Dorn and the switch-hitting Cliff Pennington. Given the preponderance of right-handed pitchers, if a platoon is used, we may also want to get Tomas some time in the outfield. It's still very early days, but so far, Yasmany has done a good job of handling right-handed pitching - to the extent he has a very sharp reverse split, hitting them much better than the traditional platoon advantage.
However, the problem is that keeping them both up would necessitate another roster move. The team is currently carrying eight relief pitchers, so it's possible one of them could be sent down - most likely, J.C. Ramirez, I'd presume. However, Lamb isn't the only player coming back from injury, with David Hernandez throwing at Double-A Mobile this weekend, and will probably join the club next week. An alternative might be to drop one of the outfielders, probably optioning David Peralta? Not that Peralta's numbers really merit it. This will be just one in a number of interesting roster decision the team will have to make in the coming weeks and months.
[All stats exclude Friday's game]