"I'm going to go in thinking I want to make the team out of the spring," Lincoln said. "I don't want to wait for a midseason call-up. I've put in hours every day, on the field and in the gym, and I'm doing that because I want to show them that's what I deserve."
Lincoln has had a strange career. After he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2007, he seemed like a forgotten man, and given that he'd been the fourth overall pick in the draft just months before, it was weird how little people talked about him. And when they did talk about him, it was to bash the Pirates for not drafting Tim Lincecum instead, as if Lincoln hadn't been widely regarded as a better prospect than Lincecum at the time of the draft. Now Lincoln's name is on everyone's lips again to the point that he might even be overhyped.
I wish the best for Lincoln not only as a Pirate but as a person--he's certainly been through a lot, at least by pro baseball player standards, and he works hard. But the most important reason Lincoln is likely to start the year in the minors is that he simply isn't that good yet.
Lincoln was relatively old when drafted and then missed a season, and now he's nearly 25 and has less than 300 pro innings under his belt. He pitched very well in Class AA last year and he has excellent control, but he ran into problems at Class AAA, allowing seven homers in 61 innings, not striking out enough batters, and posting a 4.70 ERA. The problem seems to be that his changeup isn't much, so he isn't very effective against good lefty hitters who don't have the trouble with Lincoln's good breaking ball that righties do. He'll probably need to fix that, or he won't have much success in a big league rotation.
ZiPS projects that Lincoln will have a 5.14 ERA this year, behind fifth starter competitors Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen, and lists as his top three comparables Dave Telgheder, Geoff Geary and Keith Evans. I think Lincoln is likely to be better than those players, but some perspective might, unfortunately, be in order. He's a decent starting pitching prospect who's relatively close to the majors. That's something, but it's probably less than a lot of Pirates fans think it is. Lincoln probably needs to start the season in Class AAA.