07/12/09 11:08 PM ET
Lincoln a crowd pleaser at Futures Game
Pirates farmhand excites fans, enjoys his chance to pitch
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
With a persistent rain having pushed Sunday's XM All-Star Futures Game into more than a three-hour delay, Lincoln emerged from the clubhouse with a Frisbee. He and two of his teammates passed the time chasing down the Frisbee in the outfield grass, much to the delight of the fans who were craving any sort of entertainment they could get.
And when the Frisbee landed in a puddle in the middle of a tarp, Lincoln did what any Texan would do: He took off his cleats, then his socks, and waded out to get it, earning a partial standing ovation from the crowd.
"Yes," Lincoln admitted afterward. "That was me."
Lincoln would be on the field later as the final U.S. pitcher to take the mound in an eventual 7-5 loss to the World team. Lincoln inherited what ended up as the winning run, and the right-hander would allow another before the inning ended. He allowed two hits and one walk in one-third of an inning.
Yet, for a pitcher who two years ago wasn't allowed to pick up a ball, the results weren't going to sour the occasion.
"It didn't turn out how we wanted to," Lincoln said. "But I got out there and enjoyed myself."
At this time two years ago, the only baseball in Lincoln's life was that which he watched on TV.
The No. 4 overall Draft pick one year earlier, Lincoln had just undergone reconstructive surgery on his right elbow in April. His 2007 season was lost entirely. The anticipation that he'd move up through the Pirates' farm system quickly was halted.
Now, two years later, Lincoln walked out onto the field at Busch Stadium, a participant in the All-Star Futures Game and as a Tommy John success story.
"I try to forget that," Lincoln said of his '07 trials. "But sometimes I think about how fortunate I am to have been able to do that, and today when I had to sit there, I did. I always believed in myself and believed in my work ethic. I believe that hard work pays off and it has."
After returning to the mound in '08 and considering the year a success simply because he was able to pitch through it without setback, Lincoln returned this year, not just to make it through, but to take additional steps forward.
He's done just that. The right-hander's velocity matches what it was pre-surgery. His pitch-to-pitch consistency is much improved, and his curveball and changeup has become pivotal pitches in his repertoire. In fact, in this season alone, Lincoln has developed his changeup to where it can be a go-to pitch.
"It's been a big thing for me to make that pitch a part of arsenal and to be confident throwing it, especially in a hitter's count," he said. "I'm confident throwing it for strikes. It's still a work in progress, but it's getting to the point to where I can throw it any time I want to."
His results have most certainly reflected those strides. After not pitching above Class A in 2008, Lincoln began this year with Double-A Altoona and dominated immediately. He posted a 2.28 ERA in 13 starts while walking just 18 and striking out 65. That earned him a midseason promotion to Triple-A.
"I don't try to set timelines to be there at a certain time, but I was very excited when I got the call and hoping that everything keeps on going the way it's been going," Lincoln said. "I'm going to keep working hard down in Indy."
His start in Indianapolis has been a bit rockier, as he has allowed eight earned runs in 15 1/3 innings so far.
Still, Lincoln remains the brightest pitching prospect in the Pirates' farm system, and his arrival in Pittsburgh isn't expected to be too far away. There's a chance that he could be among the group of Minor Leaguers called up this September. And if not, he'll certainly be a part of the Major League Spring Training next year, likely in competition for a big league roster spot.
For a pitcher who two years ago didn't know if his arm would ever be the same, that's a fairly impressive ascension.
"I try not to think about that [Major League debut]," Lincoln said. "I try not to put a timeline on when it might happen. Hopefully it will and I will keep on pitching the way I have been until it does."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.