The biggest issue in the Dave Littlefield Era was that the Pittsburgh Pirates always had some success, but never enough to be significant. Littlefield was afraid to completely tear down the team and build it back from the ground up. Instead of getting the prime number one or number two pick he would be picking at four through six range more often than not. Littlefield would consistently use his high draft choices on “close to MLB ready” players. Hoping that he would strike lightning in a bottle and get a key piece going forward.
In 2006 Littlefield did this once more by drafting Brad Lincoln. Many of the scouts in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization asked the general manager to take a look at a hard throwing, prep left-handed pitcher. Littlefield went to the game, the temperature in the high-30’s with rainy and windy conditions. He left after a few innings, unimpressed, and a decision that he would not be drafting the young left-handed pitcher. Who was this left-handed pitcher? Clayton Kershaw.
Lincoln was a bad choice all around. He was projected to go in the 15-20 range. On draft day experts understood the pick though because on paper Lincoln looked good. He had a solid college career at Houston, and his fastball could sit in the low-to-mid 90’s.
What worked against him was things like level of competition he faced and that he was only six feet tall. Littlefield knew he would be an easy target to sign, though. Littlefield told the public that Lincoln was a good, college pitcher who would be a quick to the Majors ace that would help to get the team winning again. Lincoln became the Pittsburgh Pirates top pitching prospect, but he never panned out.
Lincoln fought his way through the Minors and in 2010 made his debut. He started nine games for the Pirates that year and posted a 6.66 ERA. At this point many fans knew that Lincoln was not worth the number four overall pick. They figured out that Littlefield took the signable player, and passed on greater talent while hoping for a quick to the Majors player. In 2011 he was a little better posting a 4.72 ERA in 12 games, while making eight starts. The key is that he made four relief appearances and proved to be effective in doing so.
The Pirates stuck Lincoln in the bullpen for the 2012 season and were rewarded by it. In 28 games in the 2012 season he pitched to a 2.73 ERA. He did make five starts, but those were mostly spot starts. Neal Huntington capitalized on the limited success and dealt him to the Toronto Blue Jays for Travis Snider. Snider was the 14th overall pick in the 2006 draft and was having a hard time staying healthy and getting a consistent opportunity in Canada.
By 2014 Lincoln was on the Philadelphia Phillies. He made two appearances and had an ERA close to 12. With that he was cut by the Phillies. He has not played a single Major League game since. Lincoln went from the number four pick, to the number one pitching prospect in the organization, to a busted prospect and starter, to a relief pitcher, to a trade chip, to out of Majors all within seven years of pro baseball.