Keuchel-endorsed Jimmy Lambert a good bet to help Sox in '21 originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Dallas Keuchel called him one of his favorite young White Sox pitchers.
Tony La Russa called him a future fixture in the White Sox starting rotation.
When four combined World Series rings start heaping praise on a youngster, it's time to start paying attention.
White Sox fans aren't unfamiliar with Jimmy Lambert, who has been a talked-about prospect for a while now. He made the team's Opening Day roster in 2020 as part of the bullpen with an eye on being used in case of emergency as starting-pitching depth.
Emergency did strike, but Lambert was one of the first casualties on an at times mile-long injury list for the White Sox during the COVID-shortened campaign. He made two appearances before going down for the year with a forearm injury, this after making the long recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2019.
Since he last pitched, World Series expectations have come to the South Side, and Lambert is seemingly set to start the season in the minors, what with the first four spots in the White Sox rotation spoken for and roster-construction realities making Carlos Rodón seem like the favorite for the No. 5 job out of camp.
But as the White Sox have shown in recent seasons, you can never have too much starting pitching.
"You know the baseball truism that a stacked rotation is never stacked enough?" La Russa said Wednesday. "That was true when we played 60 (games in 2020), and you add 100 to that (for 2021)."
Lambert seems a good bet to be called on at some point in 2021. And he'll be ready. For whatever the team needs him to do — and more.
"Maybe it's April 1, ... but if it's April 15, if it's in May, I want to be healthy down the stretch and I want to go out there every five days and not just be a No. 5 starter, I want to be a good starter," Lambert told NBC Sports Chicago. "If I'm called upon to start, I want to give us a chance to win. That's really what I'm working for."
What makes Lambert impressive? In his last full, healthy season, 2018, he put up good numbers pitching between Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham, a 3.67 ERA all told, with the 2.88 mark he put up in five starts at Birmingham really standing out. He piled up the strikeouts that season, too, with a 10.3 K/9 and 110 total over 95.2 innings.
But as is so often the case in baseball, the rave reviews come from what the trained eyes see as much as the numbers.
Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young winner, gave a glowing description of Lambert in his first media session of the spring.
"I'm real, real high on Jimmy Lambert, he's one of my favorites out of the whole group," he said. "I look at the little things in guys, especially young guys that have a little bit of the knowledge upstairs.
"When you're talking about talent, there's guys that stand out to you. Like Garrett (Crochet), he's throwing 97, but he's also 6-4, 6-5 or even bigger than that. With Jimmy, if you see him on the street, you don't really see him as a prototypical athlete, but the competitive edge is there and the knowledge is there. The way the ball comes out of his hand, it's so heavy. You don't expect that from a guy who's sitting 6-foot and 180 (pounds).
"He's got three plus pitches that, at an early age, is advanced. And I think the mental mindset is also there. So I'm anxious for him to have a healthy first full season in there to see what he's going to be doing."
Lambert's response? It fired him up a bit.
"That was definitely unexpected," he said. "I've actually got to know Dallas pretty well over the last year and some change. ... I've got a great relationship with him.
"He's a guy that's reached the pinnacle in the sport, both individually and team-wise. ... And so for him to say those things about me, it's definitely pretty cool, and it's motivating for me, for sure.
"I want to prove him right."
Of course, Keuchel finished his ode to Lambert with some slight regret. Perhaps he revealed too much.
"I probably shouldn't say a lot in the media," Keuchel said, "because other teams might want to trade for him."
While the White Sox dealing Dane Dunning for Lance Lynn showed the front office is open to win-now moves, perhaps Lambert ends up being the midseason reinforcement instead of the guy who gets sent away in a deadline deal.
General manager Rick Hahn said in his press conference to open spring training that the team expects to have the "economic ability" to make an addition at the trade deadline. But look, too, to guys like Lambert and Jonathan Stiever, who could be called on to provide depth and surprise.
And so maybe Lambert ends up playing a role on this White Sox team with championship aspirations. The possibility for such an opportunity is not lost on a guy who's missed most of the last two seasons dealing with arm injuries. Now he's got people talking in spring training and getting ready for the call to be a part of something special on the South Side.
"You can go around the league, and there's so many players who play 10-, 15-year careers and never have a chance to win," Lambert said. "I think that's what's so special about this team is we have the veteran presence, but we also have a lot of young guys who are going to, potentially, have a chance to win.
"That's motivating to try and get on the team because, potentially, I'm going to be a rookie again this year, and we've got a lot of first-year, second-year guys who are going to have a chance to win. That's kind of where we're all at, and it's pretty cool."