According to reports from earlier this week, the Yankees will assign Jacob Lindgren to the High-A Tampa Yankees to begin the 2016 season. This announcement comes as somewhat of a surprise given that Lindgren was considered a candidate for the Major League bullpen at the outset of spring training. The Yankees drafted Lindgren with the 55th selection of the 2014 MLB Draft out of Mississippi State University with the idea that he could make a near-immediate impact at the major league level as a reliever. So when the Yankees traded Adam Warren and Justin Wilson this winter, Lindgren appeared to be a natural contender for a role in the bullpen in 2016.
Unfortunately, Lindgren struggled in Grapefruit League action, yielding four walks and four earned runs with one strikeout in just 2.1 innings. Lindgren also pitched to mixed results in his first MLB stint between May and June last season. The lefty appeared in seven games, pitching seven innings, and allowing four earned runs with eight strikeouts and four walks. On June 13th, the Yankees sent Lindgren to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and on June 21st, they announced that he would undergo surgery on his left elbow to remove a bone spur, ending his 2015 campaign.
The Yankees' decision to send Lindgren down to High-A represents an opportunity for the team to monitor his post-operation mechanics moreso than it is a demotion from Scranton. Although Lindgren features dynamic, left-handed stuff, he has struggled to command his pitches throughout his career. In his final season at Mississippi State, Lindgren pitched to a 0.81 ERA, but still allowed 25 walks in 55.1 innings pitched. That equates to more than four walks per nine innings, which is far too many for a relief pitcher who aspires to pitch high-leverage innings.
Lindgren's arsenal features two pitches: a four-seam fastball and a slider. In a small sample last season, Lindgren threw 63% fastballs and 37% sliders according to Brooks Baseball.
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While Lindgren's fastball only averages about 90 mph, it does feature relatively heavy sinking action for a four-seamer. His slider is his out pitch, possessing good depth and movement in on the hands of right-handed batters. The Yankees used a high pick on Lindgren because they are confident that he possesses the tools to get key outs in the later innings. However, to let those tools shine, Lindgren's command must improve, and the first step in that process is making sure that Lindgren's mechanics are where they should be after his elbow procedure.
From there, Lindgren can work on making the adjustments to get him back on the fast-track to the Yankees' bullpen. One area in which he can improve is with his pitch mix, which was far too predictable over a small sample last season. For example, against left-handed batters, Lindgren threw fastballs 86% of the time when he was behind in the count, and sliders 89% of the time when he was ahead in the count. Similarly, against right-handers, he threw fastballs 94% of the time when behind in the count, and (more reasonably) 63% sliders when ahead.
Despite his disappointing performance this spring, Lindgren is clearly a part of the Yankees' future, and with the bullpen depth they currently posses in Triple-A, the Yankees will not rush him back to the big league level. For Lindgren though, the road map back to the Bronx is clear: become more consistent mechanically, throw more strikes, and mix pitches better. Once those boxes are checked he will find himself back in the Yankees' bullpen in no time.