After breaking two legs and a right arm when he was 2 years old, Will Lamb's future in sports was uncertain.
“I couldn’t do anything mobile for six months,” Lamb said. “I was in a body cast. I didn’t know what was going on. I never knew that I couldn’t play sports. My parents let me do what I wanted. I wanted to play baseball. It just stuck.”
Recovering to play baseball by the time he was 6, the now 21-year-old Crawdads pitcher is starting to grow, improve and, with luck, make it to the top of his profession.
Crawdads manager Bill Richardson said Lamb possesses tools, both on and off the field, to be a Major League ballplayer.
“Right now, his pitch ability is off the charts,” Richardson said. “What he brings to the club are his leadership skills. He knows how to handle himself off the field in between starts. He’s doing a great job.”
Lamb, a 6-foot-6, 180-pound left-handed pitcher out of Clemson University, is a 2011 second round pick by the Texas Rangers.
The pride of Seaford, Va., Lamb played pitcher in college, but made starts in center field and first base.
He said it’s been a challenge trying to work on pitching all the time instead of putting in time as a position player.
“I didn’t know whether I would be drafted as a pitcher or outfielder because I played both,” Lamb said. “I thought I played center field better than I pitched. I know I was more projectable as a pitcher. It’s been interesting trying to transition full time.”
Storm Davis, the pitching coach for the Crawdads, said he has been working with Lamb to mold him into a starting pitcher.
“From a pitching standpoint, he’s a sharp kid mentally,” Davis said. “He has a high athletic IQ. It will be interesting to see how he develops into making the transition to a full-time pitcher. His ‘stuff’ is there. Physically, he is gifted. He is tall and lean. He will fill out in the coming years. He is a very good athlete. Pitching will fit him well.”
This season marks Lamb’s first full campaign in a Crawdads uniform.
After being drafted, Lamb spent most of last season in Spokane, Wash., the Rangers’ Class A Short Season affiliate.
In 12 games with the Spokane Indians, Lamb started seven games, allowed 17 runs (16 earned) and struck out 42 batters, tallying a 1-1 record on the mound.
On Aug. 14, 2011, Lamb was called up to Hickory, joining the squad for the first time.
Lamb’s first start for the Crawdads, which took place in Greenville, S.C., is one he said he’ll never forget.
“I had a bunch of fans out there,” he said. “I met some great people down there at Clemson, including teammates, best friends and people that just love the game of baseball. Our families became close friends with theirs. My family was out there when I pitched in Greenville. It was nerve-racking for me because it was my first start and in a place I had thrown at in college and played at a bunch of times. It was nerve-racking for sure, but it was a lot of fun.”
With the familiarity of playing in Hickory under his belt already, Lamb said he is using that knowledge to help others on this year’s Crawdads squad.
“Last year, I was more of a guy who came in, filled a spot and helped the team out in the best way I could,” he said. “This year, I feel like I’m more of a leader. Me and Luke (Jackson) are two of the guys on the pitching staff who are returning. We’re more of ‘father figures’ looking out for all of the players. We help them get acquainted with apartments, and take them out to get food, groceries or anything else they need. I help these guys out and they are helping me out. I learn stuff from them and they learn from me.”
Working through a shoulder injury early in spring training, Lamb said he is working on getting healthier, but also working on his pitching repertoire.
“I’m trying to get my arm strength up and get back into the feel of things,” he said. “I’m a week behind the other pitchers because I sat out when I was in Arizona rehabbing. I’m steadily getting back to where I need to be. I’m working on arm strength and off-speed pitches for strikes. My change-up and slider need to be more of a weapon for me.”
So far this season in two starts, Lamb is 0-1 with a 2.00 ERA, and he’s posted three strikeouts, no walks and four runs given up (two earned).
Richardson said this year will be a big determining factor in Lamb’s future success, which he believes will be a spot one day on the Texas Rangers’ roster.
“He’s got a great story,” Richardson said. “I just don’t want him to succeed here. If he is here the whole season, I feel like we’ve done something wrong. I want him to feel that way, too. I think it is great where he has come. He has to understand that he needs to get that body into shape to get to where we want him to go. I think he has a real shot at the big leagues.”
While he continues to grow and learn from the business, Lamb said he will continue to be passionate about baseball, but also keep a watchful eye on his future.
“I’ve been playing this game since I was six,” he said. “It’s the only game I’ve ever loved. I learn something from it every day. You never can be too confident in it because it can shoot you down in a heartbeat.”