Thursday, May 21, 2015

Random Ex-Brave: George Lombard

It was supposed to be a perfect match. George Lombard grew up in Atlanta and went to Lovett School - the same school future Braves draftee Jon Schuerholz went to. When the athletic outfielder fell to the second round in 1994, the Braves jumped in and convinced him to sign with a franchise that had in the World Series in two of the last three years. Lombard routinely ranked among the Top 100 prospects in baseball. Only one problem, though. He just wasn't that good.

Lombard from spring training 1998
Andy Lyons | Getty Images Sport
Born in 1975 to a mother, Posy Lombard, who was an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lombard was one of those guys with multiple opportunities to make something big happen with his life. He was a superb running back and had committed to go to Georgia after high school, but the Braves came calling. After signing, the raw outfielder struggled in the Gulf Coast League, hitting a measly .140 in 40 games. But no one was worried about Lombard's future. Sure, he was raw but the tools he had were numerous. Lombard was from an era where the Braves sought toolsy outfielders like Andre King and Mike Kelly over players with a bit more polish but a lower high-end projection.

Lombard moved to short-season A ball in 1995 with the Eugene Emeralds. The Braves dropped their short-season A team in 1999, but Lombard was part of a intriguing prospect-laden squad in '95. Sharing outfield time with Lombard was Roosevelt Brown and at shortstop, there was ultra prospect Glenn Williams. All three Emeralds, plus others like John Rocker, would get to the majors. Lombard stole 35 bases with Eugene before finishing the year with Macon for 49 games. His overall numbers look pedestrian at .233/.324/.330, though he did set a personal high of 51 steals.

He repeated Macon the following year and showed a bit more in terms of his numbers (.730 OPS, 15 HR, 24 SB), though he struck out a ton. Playing for the final version of a Braves-affiliated Durham Bulls in 1997, Lombard improved his average to .264 and OPS'd .805 with 14 long flies and 35 steals. And he struck out a ton. But you can't blame Baseball America for thinking he was a good looking prospect. He was young for the Carolina League, but not only held his own but excelled. And unlike a lot of high K guys in the minors, Lombard took his walks.

Lombard appeared to break out in 1998. Playing for the Greenville Braves, Lombard slashed .308/.410/.543 with 25 2B, 22 HR, and 35 steals in 40 attempts. Can you imagine how excited the Braves were? They had just graduated Andruw Jones into the starting lineup and now had Lombard on his way to the majors while several middle infielders led by Rafael Furcal were developing in the lower minors. Atlanta awarded Lombard with a six game run in the majors to finish his remarkable season. On September 23, Lombard pinch hit for Norm Charlton (Random Ex-Brave profile) in a 9-0 game. On a 2-2 from Rob Stanifer, Lombard connected for his first homer to deep right field at ProPlayer/Dolphins/CrappyBaseballAlignment Field. It was his second hit in his brief six game cameo. Bigger days were on their way.

Or...so we thought. Lombard headed to AAA Richmond for 1999. It was a pivotal season. The Braves had the pending free agent Gerald Williams in left field after Ryan Klesko had been moved to first base. The opening was there for Lombard. Hit at Richmond and LF was his provided everything didn't descend into darkness because of Y2K. But Lombard struggled. He hit just .206, was hurt often and he lost a lot of the spark that made him a big prospect. The Braves moved Klesko to get Reggie Sanders to block Lombard entering 2000 and would add B.J. Surhoff because of Sanders's AtlantaSuckaTude. Lombard did respond in Richmond, though. He hit .276 with 10 HR and 32 steals in 112 games. He also got his most extensive time in the majors with the Braves. 27 games. He mustered four singles in 41 PA.

How much did the Braves think of Lombard at this point? They signed Dave Martinez rather than give Lombard a shot to win a bench job entering 2001. The writing was on the wall. Ultimately, the Martinez signing didn't matter much as Lombard would need surgery on his foot that ultimately limited him to just a baker's dozen amount of games with Richmond.

In 2002, the Braves finally ended the Lombard Experiment by trading him in mid-June to the Tigers for Kris Keller. A rookie, Keller had pitched in one ugly game with the Tigers a couple of weeks before and never pitched in the majors again. He spent the rest of the 2002 in the Richmond pen and was out of professional ball a couple of years later. The Tigers gave Lombard extensive playing time - they did lose 106 games after all - and Lombard hit like you might expect the failed prospect to hit (.241/.300/.373). He did hit five homers and swipe 13 of 15 bases. Interestingly enough, he made his Tigers debut in Atlanta, but went hitless in four trips to the plate over two days. A few weeks later, in a 17-9 wild one at Comiskey Park II, Lombard finished a double short of the cycle. Two weeks later, he finished a triple short of the cycle. He was actually hitting pretty well through 30 games, but OPS'd .518 in his final 42 games.

After failing to make the Tigers roster in 2003, the Rays picked him up on waivers - they did lose 99 games after all. His run there lasted just 13 games before he was back in the International League. He spent 2004-05 in the BoSox system before a 2006 run with the Nats that got him back to the majors for 20 games when rosters expanded. The final hit of his career came on September 24 in Flushing when he singled off Steve Trachsel, who probably took 40 seconds between the first-pitch ball and the second pitch that Lombard sent to left field. There's a guy who needed a clock. Unfortunately for Lombard, he went hitless in 14 PA to finish his major league career after that single.

From 2007 until 2009, Lombard played again for the Nats system plus stops with the Dodgers, Marlins, and Indians organizations. He also played for the Long Island Ducks in 2009 for 50 games. That would close off his career. In 144 games in the majors, Lombard slashed .220/.281/.340 with 8 HR and 23 steals.

Since his career came to a close, he has been a hitting coach, minor league manager, and since 2012, he has been a roving outfield and baserunning instructor.

More Random Ex-Braves
Jason Marquis (2000-03)
Nate McLouth (2009-11)
Roman Colon (2004-05)

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