One of the most fascinating personalities of the Pirates' 2013 season was Andrew Lambo. Even as the Bucs were lighting up the Majors, fans were enchanted by the faraway Minor League exploits of Lambo -- particularly after a midseason upward move from Double-A to Triple-A also upped his game.
Lambo's 32 homers ranked fourth among all Minor Leaguers, and he also had 99 RBIs and an OPS of .922 in 120 games between Altoona and Indianapolis. His previous single-season high had been 18 homers (in 2008, in the low Minors with the Dodgers, his original organization), and the eruption dramatized how he has played his way back into the Pirates' plans.
A couple of years after being dropped from the 40-man roster, the 25-year-old Californian earned the Bucs' Minor League Player of the Year honors.
The intrigue only grows now as his first-base experiment gets under way in the Venezuelan Winter League.
The two biggest holes -- the only holes -- in the Pirates' lineup remain in right field and at first base. General manager Neal Huntington betrayed his concern over those two positions with his moves at the end of August, but he has been yanked back to square one, with Marlon Byrd having gone across the state to Philadelphia and the club having little interest in re-signing free agent Justin Morneau.
In retrospect, many question the commitment to Morneau that made Garrett Jones and his power disappear. In 101 at-bats with Pittsburgh, including the postseason, Morneau had no homers and only three RBIs, whereas Jones had two homers and four RBIs in very limited September play. The reality is that the Pirates may have been trying to adjust to life without Jones, a prime candidate to be non-tendered after agreeing to a $4.5 million deal in his second year of arbitration-eligibility.
So first base and right field dominate Huntington's shopping list. First base is a longer-term issue than right, where Gregory Polanco could take over as early as next July.
Lambo is the guy who will allow them to buy time at both positions. He joined Lara a few days ago, and on Thursday made his first start for the Cardenales at first base. This is a project that will go on throughout his stay in Venezuela and continue into Spring Training.
"We need to make sure not to overlook the in-house pop we have," manager Clint Hurdle said of Lambo. "Is he ready? There's only one way to find out. He's got an aggressive swing, and a pretty good eye at the plate. His Minor League numbers obviously get your attention, and we'll look for opportunities to maximize that."
First base isn't totally alien to Lambo, as the 6-foot-3, 220-pound pure lefty has played 41 of 672 Minor League games there, but only 19 have come in the three and a half seasons since he accompanied James McDonald from Los Angeles in the July 2010 deal for Octavio Dotel.
Lambo's first-right combination not only constantly intrigues the Pirates -- last winter they added two players who fit that description; Jerry Sands remains in the organization, though Clint Robinson recently moved on to the Dodgers -- it has become a common way to stretch 25-man rosters. In 2013, Jones was only one of seven players to make 20-plus starts at both positions.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.