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Pirates want top pick on fast track

Joe Rutter
| Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The Pirates believe first-round draft pick Brad Lincoln is on the fast track to pitching in the major leagues. To prove it, they plan on bucking recent tradition by assigning him to one of their full-season farm teams.

Once Lincoln signs a professional contract, that is.

Lincoln, a hard-throwing right-hander drafted fourth overall Tuesday out of the University of Houston, must agree to financial terms before he can begin his minor-league career. But that appears to be a formality.

Lincoln said yesterday he plans to be Pirates property by the end of the week - perhaps even striking a deal today. Lincoln is expected to command a signing bonus worth $3 million.

"We want to get a deal done as quickly as possible," said Peter Vescovo, one of Lincoln's advisers and a member of the San Antonio-based Momentum Sports Group. "Brad wants to get out there and get acclimated with pro ball and start working his way up. We all think it's beneficial for that to happen."

Pirates scouting director Ed Creech said the organization has decided Lincoln will begin his career at Low Single-A Hickory or High Single-A Lynchburg. That's an indication of how highly the Pirates value the 21-year-old, whose fastball has reached 98 mph.

The organization's routine when drafting college pitchers is to send them to short-season Williamsport. That's where John Van Benschoten began his career in 2001 and Paul Maholm in 2003. Bryan Bullington, drafted first overall in 2002, didn't sign until after the season and debuted with Hickory the next year.

Those pitchers, though, were viewed as middle-of-the-rotation starters. Lincoln, it appears, is a cut above.

"We see him as a high-ceiling starter," Creech said. "We know what we're getting here. We're very happy."

Vescovo thinks Lincoln is a natural fit for the Pirates and their predominantly left-handed rotation.

"A power pitcher might have a chance to move quickly in there," he said. "With Brad, you get a pretty polished college arm who is not too far away."

Maholm, another polished pitcher coming out of the college ranks, was in the Pirates' rotation two and a half seasons after he was taken eighth overall. Lincoln said only one person will dictate his timetable.

"That's something I have to do," he said. "I have to perform up to par. I have to go out and show what I have. Hopefully, within the next two or three years, I'll be at the big-league level. I'm putting that solely on myself to get it done."

Lincoln got it done during his junior season, going 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA in 17 starts. He threw three complete games and two shutouts while ringing up 151 strikeouts in 1272/3 innings.

"He was their horse," Creech said.

Lincoln's pitching style has drawn comparisons to Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Ben Sheets and, because of his 6-foot, 200-pound frame, Houston Astros ace Roy Oswalt.

Also an accomplished hitter, Lincoln batted .295 with 14 homers and 53 RBI in 61 games.

The Pirates had Lincoln on their radar since he was a high school senior. His stock rose significantly following a strong performance last summer in the wood-bat Cape Cod League.

"We zeroed in on him all year," Creech said. "We felt for sure we were going to get him within the last two days."

Lincoln fell to the Pirates after Kansas City selected former Tennessee right-hander Luke Hochevar with the No. 1 overall pick, Colorado took Stanford right-hander Greg Reynolds and Tampa Bay picked Long Beach State third baseman Evan Longoria.

"He was the most talented guy we thought was available," Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said. "We think he's closer (to pitching in the big leagues) than the next group of guys out there."

Littlefield, who watched one of Lincoln's starts this season, said the right-hander needs to improve his changeup.

"He's a guy who has a very good fastball and curveball and has struck out a lot of players," he said. "He hasn't needed to use a third pitch. At our level, he needs to work on the changeup and throw it more often to develop it."

Notes: Pirates manager Jim Tracy's son, Chad Tracy, was selected in the third round, with the 88th overall pick, by the Texas Rangers. Chad Tracy was a catcher at Pepperdine University. ... John Shelby, son of Pirates first base coach John "T-Bone" Shelby, was selected in the fifth round by the Chicago White Sox. He was a second baseman at the University of Kentucky.

Pirates' picks

Here's a look at the 18 players the Pirates drafted on Tuesday:

1. Brad Lincoln, RHP, University of Houston

2. Michael Felix, LHP, Troy University

3. Shelby Ford, 2B, Oklahoma State

4. William Hughes, RHP, Cal State Long Beach

5. Patrick Bresnehan, RHP, Arizona State

6. James Negrych, 2B, Pitt

7. Austin McClune, CF, Edmond Santa Fe (Okla.) High School

8. Alexander Presley, CF, Mississippi

9. Stephen MacFarland, RHP, Lamar

10. Charles Benoit, LHP, Oklahoma State

11. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, West Carteret (N.C.) High School

12. Kent Sakamoto, 1B, Fresno State

13. Brandon Holden, RHP, Stoneman Douglas (Fla.) High School

14. Gregory Smith, 1B, Fordham

15. James Barksdale, CF, North Alabama

16. Kris Watts, C, Santa Clara

17. Michael Crotta, RHP, Florida Atlantic

18. Francisco Ortiz, RHP, No School

Where are they now?

A look at the Pirates' past 10 first-round picks:

2005 -- OF Andrew McCutcheon: Center fielder at Single-A Lynchburg

2004 -- C Neil Walker: Catcher at Single-A Lynchburg

2003 -- LHP Paul Maholm: Starter in Pirates rotation

2002 -- RHP Bryan Bullington : On injury rehab with Pirates at extended spring training

2001 -- RHP John Van Benschoten: On injury rehab with Pirates at extended spring training

2000 -- LHP Sean Burnett: Starter at Triple-A Indianapolis recovering from "Tommy John" surgery

1999 -- RHP Bobby Bradley: Out of baseball after incurring multiple arm injuries

1998 -- LHP Clint Johnston: Out of baseball after trying to make it as a first baseman in the Blue Jays system

1997 -- OF J.J. Davis: Not active in the minors this year after asking Rockies to convert him to a pitcher in the winter

1996 -- RHP Kris Benson: Starter in Baltimore Orioles rotation after pitching for Pirates and Mets

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