Mike Lincoln is one of the new relievers for the 2008 Reds. He was signed on February 5th of this year to a minor league contract and invited to spring training. After posting a 5.25 ERA in 12 spring training innings, he was named to the opening day roster.
Lincoln was first drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 13th round of of the 1996 draft out of the University of Tennessee. He posted decent seasons at Single-A Fort Myers in 1996, after the draft, and 1997. John Sickels included him in the 1998 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook and gave him a grade C-.
You won’t see him on many prospect lists, and there is reason for that. His control is legitimately outstanding, and you can’t argue with his win-loss record or ERA at Fort Myers last year…The problem is, control is all he has: he doesn’t throw hard at all…Lincoln’s strikeout rate was much higher in college, so there is a chance, albeit an outside one, that he could continue pitching well as he moves up.
Sickels also included him in the 1999 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook, giving him a grade C+ based on a good season at AA.
He’s…forced his way into prospect status by throwing strikes and never backing down. His fastball is only average–89-90 MPH on a good day–but he has a nasty curveball and a deceptive changeup that he’ll use at any point in the count…He does all the little things well and the Twins like to compare him to Brad Radke. Lincoln will have a shot at the rotation in 1999, but I’m worried about how his stuff will hold up in the majors and can’t give him a strong recommendation at this point.
1999 was a poor season for Lincoln. He was hit hard at AAA and in the majors (6.83 ERA in 76 IP). Baseball Prospectus included him in their 2000 book.
How far can a guy go with great command of adequate stuff? After an All-Star season in 1998 he made the Twins in 1999, only to get rocked out of the gate. He made it worse by overthrowing, which flattened his curveball. So then he didn’t have the great command that was his calling card, at which point there weren’t any strengths to talk about. There’s no reason to suspect he’s going to grow up to be Brad Radke.
2000 was the last season Lincoln started any games in the major leagues. The Twins released him in the offseason and the Pirates signed him. The next two seasons Lincoln spent in the Pirates organization, posting a 2.96 ERA in 112 innings, all out of the bullpen. He had raised his strikeout rate to 5.9 per 9 IP while pitching out of the pen.
In 2003, Lincoln injured his shoulder when he slipped on a golf ball [you can’t make this stuff up sometimes] and didn’t join the team until July, where he pitched poorly. He was released at the end of the season and signed by the Cardinals before the 2004 season. He went down in May with an arm injury and underwent Tommy John surgery in July. In August of 2005, Lincoln needed Tommy John surgery again and the Cardinals released him at the end of 2005. Lincoln wasn’t signed to a team in 2006 while rehabbing.
Because Lincoln wasn’t signed to a team last year and was coming off 2 major surgeries, none of the baseball annuals had anything to say about him. So what can the Reds and their fans expect this year? Personally, I don’t think we can expect too much. He should probably pitch just mop-up and long relief until he proves he can truly be a positive part of the bullpen. But because he hasn’t pitched in over two years, is coming off two major surgeries and wasn’t exactly impressive in Spring training, I can’t think there’s much to expect. They say control/command are the last things to return after Tommy John surgery. If he’s lost any of his already marginal “stuff,” it probably won’t matter how much control/command he is able to retain.