The Reds announced to reporters today that left-hander John Lamb has surgery to repair a herniated lumbar disk in his back (via MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon, on Twitter). A specific timeline for Lamb’s recovery isn’t clear, but the 26-year-old is not expected to be ready for the start of the 2017 season, per the announcement.
This will mark the second straight offseason in which Lamb, who was acquired in the July 2015 Johnny Cueto blockbuster with the Royals, has undergone back surgery. He opened the 2015 campaign on the DL following a back operation as well, though that procedure was apparently more minor, as it came in December 2015 and Lamb was sent on a rehab assignment in mid-April before making his 2016 debut on May 3.
Lamb was hardly a lock to break camp in the Cincinnati rotation after struggling to a 6.43 ERA through 70 innings with the Reds in 2016 and a 5.80 ERA in 49 2/3 inning following the trade in 2015. Those numbers represent the entirety of Lamb’s big league efforts to this point, so he’d have had to earn his spot on the roster with a big showing in Spring Training. However, there’s reason to believe that he could have done just that. The former fifth-round pick was once heralded as one of the best overall pitching prospects not only in the Royals’ minor league ranks but in all of Major League Baseball. Prior to the 2011 season (two and a half years after he was drafted), Baseball America rated Lamb as the No. 18 prospect in the game, while Baseball Prospectus ranked him an even more aggressive 11th overall. Tommy John surgery slowed his career along the way, however, costing Lamb nearly all of the 2011-12 seasons.
Lamb struggled in 29 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level in 2016 but tossed just 29 1/3 innings in his time there, so it’s tough to glean much of a meaningful impression from that stretch. He has a career ERA of 3.75 in 295 innings in Triple-A, though, including a brilliant stretch of 111 1/3 innings last season, during which he posted a 2.67 ERA with 9.5 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9.
If and when Lamb is ready to return from the disabled list in 2017, the Reds will quickly face a decision on him. The southpaw is out of minor league options, so if they’re going to activate him from the disabled list, he’ll need to be added directly to the active roster, as he can’t be sent to the minors without first being exposed to outright waivers.