Jake Lamb on Monday will return for an even more meaningful visit to Seattle – his first time as a major-leaguer at Safeco Field for the Diamondbacks’ three-game interleague series.
For the All-Star break, Jake Lamb returned to Seattle for a quick visit that provided “everything I needed,’’ he said recently in the Arizona Diamondbacks clubhouse.
Family time in the home where he was raised atop Queen Anne Hill? Check. An all-day outing on a friend’s boat on Lake Washington? Check. Visits to old neighborhood haunts like the 5 Spot restaurant, Elliott Bay Pizza and Bay Café? Check.
But on Monday, Lamb will return for an even more meaningful visit to Seattle – his first time as a major-leaguer at Safeco Field for the Diamondbacks’ three-game interleague series. Lamb is the everyday third baseman for the Diamondbacks, a 24-year-old rookie just beginning to make his mark.
“I can’t wait,’’ Lamb said. “I’m not a huge emotional guy, but it’s going to be pretty sweet.”
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Lamb is a member of the latest wave of Seattle-area ballplayers to hit the major leagues. It’s a group that also includes Michael Conforto of the Mets (Redmond High School), Steven Souza of the Rays (Cascade HS, Everett) and Matt Boyd of the Blue Jays (Eastside Catholic), among others.
Lamb attended Bishop Blanchet High School, where he labored in the shadow of eventual first-round pick Josh Sale, and then the University of Washington. A sixth-round draft pick by Arizona in 2012, Lamb was an unheralded prospect — at least until his stats made him impossible not to notice.
“There was never really any hype,’’ he said. “It was just kind of me playing baseball. That’s the way I like it. I don’t really like attention and all that stuff. As I came up through the minor leagues, I just kept playing well. Shoot, before I knew it, I was here, which is just crazy.”
Lamb earned his initial big-league callup last August after putting up a .327/.407/.566 line between Class AA and AAA. Lamb’s rapid ascension through the Diamondbacks’ system is no surprise to longtime Blanchet coach George Monica, who retired after the 2015 season.
“What separated Jake from other players was his work ethic,’’ Monica said. “He was determined to be as good as he could be. And now that he’s gotten to the majors, I think his work ethic will be even greater.”
Monica remembers the skinny kid he put on varsity as a sophomore second baseman – and the transformation Lamb made by his junior year after he dedicated himself to the workout room. With a physique much more reminiscent of his current 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Lamb broke out as a Blanchet junior with a .412 average and 16 doubles.
“I was always good at putting the barrel on the ball, but the ball wouldn’t go anywhere,’’ Lamb said. “I talked to some people back home, and they said, ‘Well, maybe it’s time you started working out.’ ”
Lamb, however, believes that his scrawny days, paradoxically, paved the way for him to become a good technical hitter.
“I learned I have to barrel up every single ball if I want a chance to get a hit,’’ he said. “If I get jammed, the ball will go nowhere. I just became good at putting the barrel on the ball, and once I became bigger, the hits started coming.”
Lamb was impressive enough in a 37-game major-league showcase late last year, in which he hit .230 with four homers, to compete for the starting third-base job this spring. One of the eyes he caught was the Diamondbacks’ new chief baseball officer, Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, who says Lamb “oozes” talent.
“I think he’s a championship player,’’ La Russa said. “I think he’s going to be an award winner on defense and offense, and be part of an award-winning team.”
It was Lamb’s defense that gave him the edge at third over Yasmany Tomas, the Cuban slugger whom Arizona gave a $68.5 million contract. Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale said that after the two had engaged in fielding drills in spring, Tomas told coach Ariel Prieto, a fellow Cuban, “Why are they doing this? This guy is so good. I can’t play third base like that.”
Lamb won the job, with Tomas moving to right field. Lamb started off brilliantly, driving in seven runs in the first two games and hitting .414 through the first 12. But that’s when Lamb landed on the disabled list for six weeks with a stress fracture in his foot.
“It’s tough, but it’s part of the game,’’ Lamb said. “The only thing that was frustrating, there wasn’t one play, like I dove for this ball, or I hit the base wrong, and this happened. It just kind of came out of nowhere.”
Since returning to the lineup June 6, Lamb has hit .246 with eight extra-base hits, two of them coming Sunday when he doubled and tripled in the Diamondbacks’ win over Milwaukee. Hale said the Diamondbacks may have brought him back too quickly from his rehab assignment, and that Lamb has been struggling to regain the groove he was in before the injury.
“We see a lot of good things,’’ Hale said last week. “He’s just having a hard time with really good pitchers right now. They’re pitching him well, and he gets an occasional hit, but we know there’s a lot more in there. We expect more, and he expects more out of himself.”
Playing back in Seattle, where he grew up worshipping Ken Griffey Jr., would be a great place for Lamb to accelerate his revival. Lamb wore No. 24 until it was given to Tomas this season. Instead, he was given No. 19 — Jay Buhner’s number.
“I loved him, too,’’ Lamb said.
Another player Lamb worshipped was Randy Johnson, now a frequent visitor to the Arizona clubhouse.
“When Randy’s come by, I can’t lie, I’ve put my head down a few times, because I was intimidated,’’ Lamb said with a laugh. “Those are guys you grew up watching, and you never thought you could be on the same level as them. That’s how good I thought they were, and that’s how good they were.”
But now Jake Lamb is a major-leaguer himself – and coming home.