PITTSBURGH -- In a Minor League system still starved for pitching depth, the Pirates just might have themselves a gem.
Brad Lincoln's success this season cannot be a complete surprise, considering Pittsburgh used the No. 4 overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player's Draft to nab him from the University of Houston. But now in his second year after recovering from Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his right elbow, Lincoln, 24, has management eyeing him as the most developed arm in the system with top-of-the-rotation-type potential.
"Brad Lincoln has really taken huge strides forward," general manager Neal Huntington said of the right-hander, who has spent the season leading the Double-A rotation. "We're excited about his development."
Those strides have come in a number of areas. Recently, the most promising development has been Lincoln's changeup, which he began to really focus on fine-tuning beginning in the organization's instructional league last fall.
"I've been working on it this year and developing it and being able to throw it for strikes in any count and it especially in my last two starts has been a key weapon," said Lincoln, prior to his start on Monday.
Along with a fastball that is nearing its pre-surgery velocity and a breaking ball that management sees as a potential weapon once it gets a bit more consistent, Lincoln now has an imposing three-pitch repertoire.
"All of a sudden, you are talking three potential plus pitches," Huntington said. "With the competitiveness and the makeup he has, now you're talking about a guy who you can get really excited about and feel really good about as a potential Major League starting pitcher. We're definitely seeing signs that that changeup could become a weapon for him."
Lincoln had his scoreless innings streak snapped at 20 1/3 innings in his start on Monday, falling 2 2/3 innings short of Altoona's franchise record. His record stands at just 1-3, but that is certainly not indicative of how well he's pitched.
In his 10 starts, Lincoln has given up only 14 earned runs in 57 2/3 innings. Much as he showed in Class A last season, he also continues to show above-average control, especially considering he is just one year removed from his return from Tommy John surgery. So far this season, Lincoln has walked 14 while striking out 52.
"I feel very confident in my progress and where I've come from after surgery," Lincoln said. "Going out the last few starts and being able to get deeper in the game and giving my team a chance to win is all I could ask for."
While the Pirates' development team still has its checklist for Lincoln, a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis in the near future isn't out of the question. His fairly seamless return from surgery, too, also doesn't leave a Major League debut in 2010 an unrealistic expectation.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.