Watson, Lincoln could play bigger roles for Bucs
The Pittsburgh Pirates entered a recent three-game series in Arizona after having lost five of six while visiting Los Angeles and San Francisco. Their offense had difficulty scoring runs in the California parks. Pitching was not an issue, and the team was able to compete in each loss despite failing to get timely hits.
I watched the Pirates in their series against the D-backs. While the Bucs' bats awakened somewhat and helped the club win two of three games, I came away with greater knowledge of two Pirate pitchers who may play roles as the season progresses. Left-handed reliever Tony Watson and right-hander Brad Lincoln, who can be used as a starter or out of the bullpen, could help the club moving forward.
The Marlins chose Watson in the 23rd round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. After deciding not to sign, Watson was selected by the Baltimore Orioles with their 17th pick in 2006. Again, Watson didn't sign, deciding instead to pitch for the University of Nebraska. He signed in 2007 after being selected in the ninth round by Pittsburgh.
Watson, 26, began his career in the Pittsburgh farm system as a starter. He didn't have overwhelming velocity on his fastball at the time, but statistically, he was successful in the lower classifications. He walked few and kept his team in games.
Basically a sinker-slider pitcher, Watson was viewed by many scouts as a left-hander out of the bullpen. Injuries sidelined Watson for most of 2009, and he spent '10 building arm strength and converting to a relief role. Last season, Watson was promoted to the big leagues for the first time. He was optioned to Triple-A in August, but he returned to Pittsburgh and had a very successful September.
During the Arizona series, and as of this writing, Watson is the only left-handed pitcher in the Pirates' bullpen.
Watson throws across his body, making it very difficult for left-handed hitters to see the ball come out of his hand. That said, he is more than a situational lefty. He has the ability to retire hitters by varying his speeds, changing his pitch locations and throwing to specific spots of his choice. Command and control -- rather than an excessive repertoire -- make Watson a dependable, multi-inning bullpen option. In fact, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle summoned Watson in the fifth inning of one of the games in Phoenix. He worked 2 1/3 innings of scoreless, hitless ball, striking out two. Watson came back the following night to toss a perfect two-thirds of an inning. He is capable of pitching at any point in the game.
In the games I saw, Watson's deliberate delivery and outstanding command of his sinker and slider made life very difficult for the Arizona hitters. His speed varied from 90-92 mph on his sinking fastball and from 82-85 on his slider. He also threw one or two changeups that came in at 85. Watson was not shy about using both sides of the plate, throwing strikes and keeping hitters guessing about what was coming. Having two very solid pitches may be more effective than throwing an extensive arsenal of pitches outside the strike zone and walking people. Watson was efficient and very effective.
Watson looks very confident and in control on the mound. He can pitch with runners on base or he can start an inning clean. He doesn't seem to rattle very easily. Basically, he is a dependable guy to have on the pitching staff.
Brad Lincoln is a 26-year-old right-hander and former first-round selection of the Pirates. He was chosen with the fourth overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. Lincoln's career has been slowed by the Tommy John surgery he had in 2007. He had to use that entire season for recovery and rehabilitation. He made only 19 starts in '08 between low Class A Hickory and high Class A Lynchburg.
Lincoln has pitched 481 1/3 Minor League innings and has compiled an ERA of 4.02. His 1.215 WHIP is reflective of good control. Lincoln has walked only 97 while striking out 388 in the 88 games he's started in the Minor Leagues.
Lincoln made his Major League debut in 2010, starting nine of the 11 games in which he pitched for Pittsburgh. He spent parts of the past two seasons splitting time between Triple-A Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. Lincoln started this season at Indianapolis once again, but he was recalled to Pittsburgh when starting pitcher Jeff Karstens was recently placed on the disabled list due to right shoulder inflammation.
Lincoln, like Tony Watson, relied upon two basic pitches when he pitched out of the bullpen against the D-backs. He threw a four-seam rising fastball at a velocity from 91-94 mph and a very crisp curve ball that varied only between 81-82 mph. Lincoln has also thrown a changeup in the past, but he didn't seem to need that pitch when I saw him.
At this stage of his career, Lincoln has the opportunity to be a fill-in starter, long reliever or even a late inning setup man to help a Pittsburgh pitching staff that has some very good, young, developing pitching prospects. One has to wonder how much Lincoln will pitch for the Pirates once the team's stable of top arms graduates to the Major Leagues.
Still learning their craft, pitchers like Gerrit Cole, Stetson Allie, Jameson Taillon, Luis Heredia and Kyle McPherson have likely surpassed Lincoln in the organizational depth chart of promising pitchers. Left-handers Jeff Locke and Colton Cain may join them at some point. All are ranked among MLB.com's Top 20 Pirates prospects list.
The Pirates organizational pitching is on the rise. If the young bats continue to develop, the club could be headed on an exciting future path.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.