New York Yankees rookie Jacob Lindgren made his major league debut yesterday, throwing two shutout innings against the Kansas City Royals. A year ago, Lindgren was finishing his junior season for Mississippi State University and preparing for the 2014 draft. Let's take a look at his rapid rise.
Lindgren opened his college career in the Mississippi State bullpen in 2012, posting a 3.18 ERA in 28 innings with a 24/7 K/BB, solid enough for a freshman and putting him in line for a larger role. He moved to the starting rotation in 2013 and was adequate, going 4-3, 4.18 in 14 starts with a 65/18 K/BB in 56 innings.
After pitching well as a reliever in the Cape Cod League, the Bulldogs moved him back to the bullpen in 2014 and he thrived, posting a miniscule 0.81 ERA with a stellar 100 strikeouts in 55 innings, allowing just 23 hits. His control wasn't perfect with 25 walks, but he was so tough to hit that occasional command slippages seldom mattered against college competition.
This was enough to get him drafted in the second round last June with the idea that he could get to the majors within two years. His pro debut was very sharp: 2.16 ERA, 48/13 K/BB in 25 innings at three levels, ending with 12 innings in Double-A. This was impressive enough to kick up his timetable and he was expected to spend at least part of 2015 in the majors. He opened in Triple-A and was successful enough (1.23 ERA, 29/10 K/BB in 22 innings, 16 hits) for the Yankees to make the future now. And here he is in the majors, just short of one year of being drafted.
Lindgren is a 5-11, 180 pound lefty born March 12, 1993. As a starter in college he threw in the 80s, but his fastball plays up in the bullpen, hitting 95 at times although he maxed out just under 92 in his big league debut. His key pitch is an excellent slider. He showed a mediocre curveball and change-up in college but in pro ball he's concentrated on the hard stuff. His superior strikeout rate and low hit rate testify to the quality of these pitches.
The main bugaboo for Lindgren is his command, which isn't perfect although minor league hitters were no more successful than college hitters were. That may or may not be true in the major leagues once hitters get a good look at him, but if his command can be merely adequate, he's still an above-average reliever. If it sharpens up a bit more, he can be a dominant closer.