The Pirates first round draft choice of the 2006 draft made his A ball debut last night with the Hickory Crawdads and was shelled giving up 8 hits, 7 runs, and walking 5 in 4 and 2/3rds innings of work. But the storyline is a little more complex than a simple #1 pick gets shelled.
First of all you have to know a little more about Brad Lincoln.
As a freshman at Houston, Lincoln was 3-2 with a 4.29 ERA in 56 innings of work and 10 starts. He was primarily a solid hitter.. not a pitcher.
As a sophomore, Brad went 4-7, had a 4.76 ERA, and opposing batters were teeing off on him to the tune of a .298 batting average, but a couple of things started developing for him. One, his heater started reaching the upper 90’s. And two, the last part of the year he started learning how to pitch instead of simply throwing the ball. Both of those items were noticed and Brad was invited to play in the summer Cape Cod League in 2005 where college’s best players come together and play.
That summer Brad matured as a pitcher and started building confidence in his stuff and ended the summer with a 1.32 ERA, allowing just 56 runs in 54 innings of work — against the best. It was quite a remarkable feat and he was named an All-Star in the league.
That confidence rolled over to his 2006 senior year in Houston when he went 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA in 17 starts, allowing opposing batters a batting average of just .198. Along the way, Brad threw a career high 127 innings of work which was almost as much as he had pitched in his previous two years.
Lincoln, who just turned 21 at the end of May, was drafted by the Pirates and sent to Bradenton where he did a lot of bullpen work and pitched 7 innings in two games. The Pirates, knowing Brad has pitched more innings this year than ever before, have had him on low pitch counts to keep his work load down. Despite the time off between college play, the draft, and racking up frequent flyer miles collecting award after award, Lincoln dominated GCL batters for the most part and was sent to Hickory for his first start last night.
I know there was talk in the organization about Lincoln being sent to High A ball Lynchburg instead of Hickory, but I have to believe Ed Creech and David Littlefield felt that confidence was going to be a potential problem for Lincoln early on, knowing his background. That proved to be the case tonight.
Brad took the mound obviously jittery knowing he was about to face the best team in the South Atlantic League — Lakewood.. a team that has raked a 66-40 record (.634 winning percentage) this year behind dominating pitching. But it was more than just facing the best the SAL had to offer.. Lincoln also had to face a lineup that featured batters that were several years his senior and a few that had been playing professional baseball more than 3 years in much higher leagues.
In the first inning Lincoln gave up three hits on three line drives, two walks, and allowed two runs to score while getting two of the three outs on groundballs. Two of the three hits were by minor league vets who had amassed over 4,300 at bats in their minor league careers.
In the second inning he walked the leadoff batter, got the first out on a sac bunt, walked the next batter to keep the double play alive, got a fly ball for the second out, and then the oldest player with the most minor league experience in Lakewood’s lineup singled home another run before Lincoln K’d the cleanup hitter, stranding two.
The third inning Brad’s nerves were still evident as he took the mound and he walked the leadoff batter for the second inning in a row and then gave up a double to Slayden, the southpaw Georgia Tech power batter that was drafted in the 8th round of the 2005 draft who ended up going 3-3 against Lincoln overall. Then it was like a light went off in Lincoln’s head.. start pitching and stop throwing and he settled down and retired the next three batters all on groundball outs, and the batter he walked came in to score.
The fourth inning Lincoln dominated Lakewood with his first 1-2-3 inning and two of three outs on groundballs.. a sign Lincoln was starting to get his composure and command back. More impressively, two of the three outs were against the #2 and #3 batters who were long time professional minor league players who had, up to that point, lit Brad up.
The fifth inning was more of the same as the fourth.. he K’d Lakewood’s cleanup man for the second time in the game, got a groundball out on the next batter, and then Slayden crushed his second double of the night off Lincoln. With two outs Brad gets the groundball to end the inning but it has seeing eyes and goes past the SS into CF and Slayden scored. The next batter was hit by a pitch and then the #9 batter hit yet another seeing eye groundball that goes off into CF and another run scored. Lincoln, who had hit his pitch count a batter earlier, was then pulled and Davidson picked off Hernandez leaning to end the inning but Blair didn’t make a throw home to cut down Williams who scored while they were playing ‘run the base runner down’.
So overall, Lincoln was shelled.. 6 of the balls in play in the air went for hits — 4 of those before he settled down – and two of the 11 groundballs had seeing eyes. Throw in five walks before he settled down and, well, he simply wasn’t in command early on. But he did retire 10 of his last 17 batters and, of the 7 batters he didn’t retire, two of them hit seeing eye groundballs, three went for legitimate hits, one batter was hit by a pitch, and he walked one.
So while the storyline will read Lincoln gets shelled, it should read Lincoln saw the light go off after the second at bat in the 3rd inning and he started pitching instead of throwing which is a clear indication he is gaining his confidence after being jumped two levels in professional baseball after a very tiring college year.
Look for Brad Lincoln to be a lot more competitive next time out. He might still have some early jitters a game or two, but he will absolutely dominate A ball batters by the end of the year from what I saw of him tonight. The question becomes, how long will it take for that light to go off in each start? That’s what we’ll be watching.