It's hard to be a Strikeout Factory when you're not shipping product. Since making a brief appearance in the big leagues and then being sent back down to Triple-A Scranton, Jacob Lindgren underwent surgery in June to remove a bone spur in his elbow. He was done for the season, and we'd have to wait another year for him to return.
There was a time when Lindgren, even among pretty skeptical bloggers and beat writers, was considered to be a possibly huge piece of the bullpen going into 2015. And for good reason, as the reviews were rave: Kiley McDaniel described his wipe-out slider as "hellacious" and Keith Law said he was a good LOOGY at worst and a closer at best. Lindgren, even on draft day, possessed two above-average pitches (a fastball and slider), albeit with what was considered to be below-average command. Nonetheless, the expectations were pretty high.
A big reason why the Yankees drafted Lindgren was largely because of those already-above-average pitches, and it really only made sense considering the fact that they did not have a first round pick that year, and in their recently changing draft strategy they wanted to somewhat guarantee that their first pick would reach the major leagues. They awarded him a signing bonus of $1.1 million, which was about $100,000 over the slot value and about one third of their total draft allotment.
One third of one's draft allotment is a pretty significant investment, even if it's around the slot value. Still, though, the Yankees could have gone under-slot for that selection, saved maybe $500,000 depending on the pick, and then they could have littered their draft with lottery ticket types that may have been lured away from college. Plenty of teams do that, and that's a reasonable strategy, but instead they chose Lindgren, and largely because they felt he could help in the immediate. He kind of did, in a way: he pitched 53.2 innings in the minors, putting up a stellar 1.74 ERA and 14.8 K/9 across five levels. The walk rate was a bit iffy at 4.4 BB/9, but that's pretty much as advertised. He also had seven appearances at the big league level, which certainly checks the box, but it seems more like a technicality than an achievement.
I'm definitely of the opinion that the amount of development time is huge in a draft pick's post-hoc valuation: if Player A becomes a decent reliever and he helps your roster the following year, it's huge. That maybe lessens your need to go outside the organization for bullpen help, and depending on your discount rate for the future, dollars and wins today are valued higher than dollars and wins tomorrow, especially if you're the Yankees. Then there's Player B: he becomes a decent reliever, but it takes three years to get there. At this point the organization has spent three years either developing or rehabbing the player if there's an injury, and they have to use a replacement player instead of, say, Player A. Player B is also three years older, so they won't even hold their value as long. They're also both relievers, so that value doesn't tend to stick around for all that long anyway.
It's a little nit-picky from a value stand point, but the point remains: a lot of Lindgren's value is based on his rapid rise to the majors, and once that rise becomes not-that-rapid, he becomes not-as-valuable. That'd be alright if he was a run of the mill draft pick, or if there were other picks that year to pick up the slack. No, that draft already looks pretty blasé, even if you think Jordan Montgomery is anything special. Lindgren is this draft class, or at least he was the supposed slam dunk of the class. This surgery was supposedly minor, but you never know with a pitcher's elbow. We've seen crazier things. His command also isn't fully developed, so while I think he could hold his own in terms of strikeouts, I don't think he handles any high leverage situations if he's averaging a walk every two innings.
Luckily the back end of the bullpen is as solid as can possibly be, so he'll have time to work out his issues in lower leverage spots. That too diminishes his value a bit more, but I don't mind if it relieves some pressure. Even so, it's a big year for Jacob Lindgren, because if he doesn't find himself sticking in the big leagues soon, I'll probably never check that Baseball Reference 2014 draft page ever again.