#1 - Tim Lincecum
|Date of Birth: 06/15/1984||Position: P||Height: 5'10"||Weight: 155||Bats: L||Throws: R|
Acquired: Drafted in the 1st Round (10th Overall) of the 2006 Draft
|Salem-Keizer - Short-A||0||0||0.00||2||2||0||4.0||1||0||0||0||0||10||.071||0.50|
|San Jose - High-A||2||0||1.95||6||6||0||27.2||13||7||6||3||12||48||.135||1.20|
A year ago, the Giants had one of the top young pitchers in baseball atop their prospect list.
This year, the pitcher topping the list might be even better.
Perhaps no one has inspired the sort of discussion and debate that Tim Lincecum has in the past year. No one doubts his fastball, a true mid-90's piece of heat that flirted with three digits during his pro debut. No one doubts his curveball, which is his best pitch, even better than the fastball.
But heaven forbid he be 5'11"! Lincecum's listed height may even be on the high side, and Lincecum's listed weight of 160 pounds makes prognosticators worry. The conventional wisdom is that short, slight pitchers that throw with heat are by their very nature injury risks. That is the reputation that haunted Lincecum throughout his college career and pro debut, despite Lincecum never having missed a start or any time due to injury. That is why Lincecum, who was a two-time Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year and who won the Golden Spikes Award (college baseball's version of the Heisman Trophy), slipped to #10 overall.
One might feel like saying that in defense of Lincecum, but Lincecum simply answered by his performance. The stats have often been quoted, and don't need to be stated again, even for emphasis.
Lincecum's secret is his throwing motion, and that's also why the conventional wisdom isn't right this time. The usual thought is that a slight player who throws hard does so by throwing too much with his arm and elbow. Lincecum does not. He pins the ball behind his back, and then pinwheels his arm to achieve maximum velocity. By allowing his motion to concentrate on flexibility, something that Lincecum also improves through a strict workout regimen, his arm is not at risk.
So what is there to Lincecum?
Lincecum's biggest need is to continue developing his change-up. The change-up as it is now is sometimes good and sometimes not, but he'll need it to pair with his fastball to be the most effective. The truth is that he could get by on his fastball and curveball, but he'll need the third pitch to be dominant.
Lincecum's second worry is his control. Lincecum had immense walk problems in college, averaging about one every two innings (a good rate is about one every three) in his senior year (before that, it was even higher). Lincecum kept his walks low in the pros, but his control problems will likely rear its head again in the future.
Licnecum also has a worry with his fastball. It really is that straight, as Barry Bonds has noted this spring, and straight fastballs can be problems with hitters that can catch up to it. This is where Lincecum has a little more pitch development to do. He's toyed with a split-finger in the past, but making it above average will be a key. A straight fastball high in the zone can be hit for a home run, but a decent split-finger motion, something that would be natural with Lincecum's motion, will help hitters not be able to hit the ball square, resulting in more ground ball outs. Lincecum managed just over a 1:1 groundball/flyball ratio in the pros, but that will go up as he moves up the pros.
The other thing that Lincecum will have to overcome is some uncertainty about his role. No matter how much the Giants insist they want to keep Lincecum a starter to enhance his value, there are ever-present rumors the Giants will move him to relief to enter the pros. The success of Jonathan Papelbon with the Boston Red Sox has only served to increase the speculation. Whether or not it will happen isn't decided now, and it may not be decided in Spring Training. But since Lincecum has a couple of pitches to work on, moving him up and giving him less innings to work in, not to mention more important ones in which he can't toy around, would be counter productive.
No, expect Lincecum to start the year in the minors. Connecticut would be reasonable, but chances are he'll be in Fresno. If he can succeed in the Pacific Coast League, the Giants will begin to consider bringing him up. The PCL is a haven for home runs and walks, two things that can be expected to haunt Lincecum in his career, so it will be a big test for him. Even so, expect the Giants to be cautious, even if not as cautious as they were with bringing up Cain in 2005. But Lincecum can realistically be considered to take over the 5th starter job if he excels, and there be nothing that the incumbent, be it Russ Ortiz or Jonathan Sanchez, could do about it if Lincecum is on.And if Lincecum can fulfill his promise, he will spend the next five years mired in another debate: whether he or Matt Cain should be considered the Giants' ace. And the winner in a debate like that will be the Giants and their fans.
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