How soccer helped Lombard improve at baseball

June 3rd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

At a time when many youngsters are pushed to specialize in a particular sport, chose a different path. Unable to decide between baseball and soccer, the Miami, Fla.-area athlete continued playing both, a decision which he credited for helping improve his performance on both fields of play.

“It’s funny, you don’t see too many baseball/soccer guys,” Lombard said this spring. “I’ve always done it. My mom played soccer, and I always had a ton of fun playing it. As you would guess, there were some questions of what I was going to play throughout high school, especially my senior year.

“Everyone that I asked told me that if you enjoy playing [soccer], go out and do it. It was something that helped me with baseball on the athletic side, getting faster, and then also learning to compete. I would advise any other younger baseball players to give it a try. It was super helpful for me.”

Rated as the Yankees’ No. 6 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Lombard is playing his first full season in the Minors, assigned to the Single-A Tampa Tarpons. In 33 games, Lombard is batting .213 (27-for-127), though he has shown a patient eye by working 28 walks. He’s also racked up 13 steals in 14 attempts.

That speed, at least in part, could stem from his days as a standout soccer player at Gulliver Prep in Miami.

The 6-foot-3 shortstop, who turned 19 on Sunday, has tallied five doubles and a triple with Tampa. Yet this spring, he slugged what he’d consider his first professional home run, clipping a dinger in a Feb. 25 Grapefruit League game against the Blue Jays. Yes, his name was on the box score, appearing in the same columns as Juan Soto and Aaron Judge.

Then, on March 3, Yankees manager Aaron Boone tabbed him to take the lineup card to home plate with his father, George Lombard Sr., a former big league outfielder with four teams and the Tigers’ current bench coach.

“It was awesome,” Lombard said. “I got to spend the whole day here, so I worked out with the guys in the morning, which was really cool. Just being around them, and then obviously the game, and playing against [my father] for the first time. Hopefully, it gets to happen many more times in the future.”

The Yankees’ first-round selection (26th overall) in last year’s MLB Draft, Lombard received an over-slot $3.3 million signing bonus to bypass a commitment to Vanderbilt. He began his pro career by playing 13 games for the Rookie-level Florida Complex League Yankees and Single-A Tampa, stroking 14 hits in 45 at-bats (.311).

“The guy has grit,” said Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ senior vice president of domestic amateur scouting. “He doesn’t take any pitches off. You get Major League bloodlines with his dad, and his mom being an elite soccer [player] and gymnast. Those kinds of things all add up for us, to what we think we can get as a special prospect, a special Major League-type player.”

Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: Brandon Lockridge has found results in the leadoff spot, bouncing back after a rough start to his season. After batting just .143 (8-for-56) in April, Lockridge hit .354 (17-for-48) with three doubles, a triple and seven RBIs in 18 games in May. He has also expanded his skill set by playing second base.

Double-A Somerset: Right-hander Gerrit Cole will make his first Minor League rehab start for the Patriots on Tuesday. The Yankees anticipate that Cole will need at least two starts in the Minors before he is activated. Cole is likely to throw approximately 50 pitches in the outing against Hartford.

High-A Hudson Valley: Infielder Jared Serna, the Yankees' No. 19 prospect, enjoyed another big performance this past Wednesday, hitting a grand slam and a three-run blast to tie Hudson Valley’s single-game RBI record with seven. Serna drove in 29 runs in May, a new club record for RBIs in a single month.

Single-A Tampa: Right-hander Luis Serna had a strong May, posting a 2-1 record and a 2.19 ERA across five starts. In 24 2/3 innings, Serna held opponents to six runs and 14 hits, striking out 26 against just five walks.