The Pittsburgh Pirates have made many draft mistakes, one of the biggest was the 2006 MLB Draft when they drafted college pitcher Brad Lincoln.
Leading up to 2006, the Pittsburgh Pirates had actually done fairly well with their first-round picks. After the draft blunder of Bryan Bullington in 2002, the Pirates had selected Paul Maholm in 2003, Neil Walker in 2004 and Andrew McCutchen in 2005. But in 2006, the Pirates would run into yet another first round pick that would end up being a failed prospect when they selected Brad Lincoln with the 4th overall selection in the draft.
Lincoln was drafted out of the University of Houston, the same college that produced former Pittsburgh Pirates ace Doug Drabek. But unlike Bullington or Daniel Moskos, who was drafted the following season, Lincoln was actually a pretty productive arm in the year he was drafted. During his final season at Houston, Lincoln pitched in 127.2 innings. He allowed just 24 earned runs, resulting in a strong 1.69 ERA. He also struck out 152 batters, walked just 32, and allowed eight home runs. He also had a sub-1 WHIP at 0.96.
But Lincoln could also get it done with the bat in his hands. Lincoln could also play some first base, and slugged 14 home runs, a dozen doubles, and had a .295/.368/.536 line in 224 at bats. This was not the first time the Junior posted an OPS above .900 as he had a .933 OPS in his sophomore season.
In his final college season, Lincoln won several college awards including the Dick Howser Trophy, Brooks Wallace Award, made the Conference-USA All-Tournament team, and won the Conference-USA Player of the Year Award.
Looking back at old scouting reports, Lincoln’s fastball sat in the low-to-mid 90s, but he could crank it up into the high-90s if he needed to. He paired that with a strong curveball. Plus, considering his batting prowess, he was also seen as a guy who wasn’t going to be an automatic out when he stepped to the plate.
So with their first pick, and with the 4th overall selection in the draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates chose Lincoln. The Bucs gave him a $2.75 million signing bonus. But things got off to an ugly start, and the beginning of Lincoln’s downfall. Lincoln only pitched 23.2 innings in 2006, and was forced to undergo Tommy John Surgery at the beginning of the 2007 season.
He missed all of 2007, and returned in 2008, but did not put up great results. In 103.2 innings between Low-A and High-A, Lincoln had a 4.69 ERA, 3.89 FIP and a 1.26 WHIP. He was really good at limiting walks with a fantastic 3.9% walk rate, but had a subpar 17.2% strikeout rate and 1.1 HR/9. Decent numbers if he were a late round pick, but not so good when he was the 4th overall selection in the draft two years prior.
2009 would be Lincoln’s age-24 season. The right hander did improve, seeing his ERA, FIP and WHIP drop to 3.37, 3.32 and 1.19 through 136.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Plus, he saw his strikeout percentage 19.3%, while his walk rate stay at a very strong 5%. Home runs became less of an issue as he surrendered 11, resulting in a 0.7 HR/9.
Between 2010 and 2011, Lincoln bounce between Triple-A and the MLB level. Although he would post solid numbers at Triple-A in both seasons, he was not making an impact at the MLB level. His first 100.1 innings in the Majors yielded 120 hits, 64 earned runs, 13 home runs, and just 54 strikeouts to oppose 31 walks. His ERA+ of just 68 was just another dent in the former prospect’s career.
Lincoln seemed to finally be turning a corner in 2012. Mainly used as a swing man for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Lincoln pitched in 28 games and started five. Overall, he threw 59.1 innings, and had a 2.73 ERA, 3.58 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP. Lincoln was striking out batters at a professional career best rate of 25%, while still showing great control with a 5.8% walk rate. Although home runs became an issue once again for Lincoln with a 1.2 HR/9 rate, he still had a strong xFIP (3.46) and SIERA (3.11).
But the Pirates decided to move on from Lincoln. They traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays for another former top prospect, and who also was selected in the 2006 draft with Lincoln, outfielder Travis Snider. After 2012, Lincoln barely played at the MLB level again, and hasn’t pitched professionally since 2015.
Now, granted, the 2006 draft was not as deep as the 2002 draft, or 2008 draft. But that does not mean that there was not any good players. Two of the most effective starting pitchers in the past dozen years were selected in the draft, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. Tim Lincecum, Andrew Miller, and Ian Kennedy were also selected after Lincoln in the first-round. One of the most effective relief pitchers in the second half of the decade, Dellin Betances, was also selected later in this draft. A few other solid bats like David Freese, Justin Turner and Brandon Belt were selected a few rounds later.
Hopefully, Ben Cherington doesn’t make the same mistakes previous Pittsburgh Pirates general managers have made. Lincoln, Moskos and Bullington are just a few names among a handful of players the Pirates swung and missed on in the 2000s. These are mistakes that a team like the Pirates can’t make as often as they do.