Brad Lincoln was raised in Lake Jackson, Texas, and played baseball & football for Brazoswood High. For a couple of years, anyway. By his junior season, he gave up QB'ing and went full-tilt for baseball. It was a good decision. When his season season ended, Lincoln was named All-District and All-County MVP and an All-State player.
Texas chose Lincoln in the 28th round of the 2003 MLB draft, but he wisely opted to attend the University of Houston, rejecting not only the Rangers but the competing college overtures of Texas A&M, Saint Louis, New Mexico and Texas-Arlington.
He broke out there as a junior when he went 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA, piling up 152 strikeouts in 127-2/3 IPs for the Cougars, launched by a strong 2005 Cape Cod summer league campaign. When he wasn't on the hill, hey, no problemo - he hit .295 with 14 home runs and 53 RBI as a 1B/DH.
Lincoln was honored as the Conference USA Player of the Year, and took home the Dick Howser Trophy (National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association top player; Clemson's Kris Benson won it in 1996), the Brooks Wallace Award (College Baseball Foundation's top player) along with the ABCA/Rawlings and Rival.com Player of the Year Awards.
Scouts liked Lincoln a lot as a pitcher, and he sure wasn't one of Dave Littlefield's sign-on-the-cheap selections. He threw in the mid nineties with a hook and a show-me change up. Pittsburgh chose him fourth overall in the first round of the 2006 MLB draft (they took Alex Presley eighth). He signed quickly for $2.75M.
In a show of confidence, Pittsburgh assigned him to Low Class A Hickory after two Rookie League starts rather than to the usual jumping off point, short-season Williamsport. The FO had high hopes of starting his career on the fast track.
But unfortunately, he spent more time in the tub than the track. An oblique strain shut him down after four starts and sixteen frames at Hickory. It would get worse. Lincoln had Tommy John surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews in April, 2007, after complaining of pain in his right arm during spring training and lost the season.
Lincoln returned to the Crawdads in 2008 and was promoted to the High Class A Lynchburg Hillcats at midseason. His stats were workmanlike, with a combined 6-10/4.69 ERA and 1.264 WHIP in 103-2/3 innings. In 2009, he split the year between Altoona and Indy. Lincoln tore up for the Curve, with a 2.28 ERA and 1.080 WHIP, and went 6-2/4.70 with the Tribe in a dozen starts.
The following season, Lincoln got the call for his MLB debut on June 9th vs. Washington, and notched his first MLB win on June 30th against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. He pitched seven innings, striking out six and walking just one as the Pirates won 2-0.
But those type performances were few and far between. Lincoln was sent back to AAA after giving up 5+ runs three times in his final four outings. In eleven big league games (9 starts), he was 1-4/6.66 averaging 4 Ks and 2.5 Ws per game.
Lincoln was having noticable mechanical problems and his speed was down by a couple of ticks. Many felt that he was out of sync because of Joe Kerrigan's excessive tinkering, and the way he handled Lincoln may have been the straw that broke the camel's back for Kerrigan.
Again putting up workmanlike numbers in Indianapolis in 2010 (7-5/4.12 and a 1.138 WHIP in seventeen starts) and having gotten a taste of the show, the 26 year old righty came into camp in 2011 looking for a spot in the rotation. But after taking a liner off the arm, he missed some March turns and lost out to Ohlie and Charlie Morton.
He was sent back to Indy - the Pirates still thought highly enough of him that they wanted him to keep making regular starts - and he was the same ol' Brad, 7-8/4.19 with a 1.218 WHIP.
Lincoln was called up in July for a spot start, and then again in August after injuries began to hound the Pirate staff. He was assigned to the pen, where he wasn't very good (4 appearances, 7.94 ERA), and was shortly back to work as a starter.
He was better than 2010, but still inconsistent and much too prone to nibbling instead of challenging hitters. His velocity was erratic and it seemed to take him an inning or two to settle in, as his 1st & 2nd inning ERAs of 10.12 & 7.04 showed. And there was no Joe Kerrigan to blame this time around. He finished 2-3/4.72 with a 1.469 WHIP, not very solid numbers.
With the addition of AJ Burnett, his slim chances of breaking camp as part of the rotation were pretty much, barring injury, turned to ash. He has an option remaining, and the Bucs will probably exercise it to keep him pitching regularly at Indy.
He may eventually slot into the old Jeff Karstens role of long man/spot starter, although we don't think that will be this spring. But it may be soon. Burnett, Morton, Karstens, and J-Mac all return in 2013, and Jeff Locke may bypass Lincoln as the minor league insurance policy this season. After that, there are a lot of young arms trying to get noticed, so it's hard to say how much longer Lincoln's window will remain open.
He's the top pitcher in the Pirate system right now in terms of MLB readiness. And he'll have to take advantage. The rest of the field is gaining quickly.His challenge is threefold: regain his aggressiveness, his velocity, and hit the street running. If he can do that, he can still be a piece of the Pirate future.