KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Yankees believe they landed a premium reliever late Thursday night when they selected Mississippi State lefthander Jacob Lindgren as their first pick of the Major League Baseball first-year player draft. The club sees him moving "quickly'' through the system, according to the man responsible for the selection.
But although some outside analysts speculate that Lindgren could make the big leagues as soon as this season, Yankees director of amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer prudently didn't provide a timetable.
"I leave those decisions to other people. Mine is just to try to bring the talent into the system,'' he said Friday during a conference call. "But we do think, as a group, that he does have the capability of moving through the system hopefully quickly. Whether he's good enough to go pitch in the big leagues right away, somebody else will make that decision. But he's obviously advanced and gotten out really good hitters.''
Lindgren, taken 55th overall, saw his career turn around when he was sent to the bullpen. He completed his junior year with a 6-1 record and 0.81 ERA in 26 relief appearances. He struck out 100 and walked 25 in 551/3 innings, averaging 16.3 strikeouts per nine innings and holding hitters to a .124 batting average.
"Me and my pitching coach at Mississippi State decided to be a reliever this year and it really changed what kind of pitcher I am,'' Lindgren said during a conference call. "I went from throwing upper 80s to low 90s to now throwing in the mid-90s, and my slider plays better . . . I feel like I'm more aggressive and explosive, especially being a late-inning guy. I like having the ball when the game's on the line.''
Amateur scouts generally agree that Lindgren has a good slider, but one attributed much of his success to simply overpowering collegiate hitters. The scout also pointed to command issues that need to be ironed out in the minors.
This much is certain: The Yankees don't plan to convert Lindgren back into a starter.
"We know what we're getting there,'' Oppenheimer said. "We know it's a lefthanded power reliever that's got two plus pitches and strikes guys out at a tremendous rate.''
Lindgren is aware that some have projected that he'll be fast-tracked to the majors, but he wasn't guaranteeing it.
"I think that's pretty cool that people think that,'' he said. "Making it to the big leagues is not easy. It's going to be hard work and I've just got to keep developing my game and getting better one day at a time. If the Yankees think it's my time to go up, I'm ready for it.''
Speaking before Friday night's game, Joe Girardi wasn't interested in speculating on that possibility, even with his club in need of a dependable lefthander coming out of the bullpen.
"It's hard to say,'' Girardi said of Lindgren being a factor in 2014. "I think that's unfair to put those expectations on a kid. You want to get your kid in the organization, see how he's throwing and how he's doing and not put too much pressure on the first year.''
Notes & quotes: The first five of the Yankees' nine picks during the first two days of the draft were pitchers. "We feel we got some good arms,'' Oppenheimer said. "I think that we did pretty darn good today considering what was in this draft.'' . . . After playing seven straight days, Derek Jeter was not in the starting lineup Friday night. "I never feel like I need a day,'' he said. "I don't like to sit out. I always want to play every day.''