Lincecum's unique delivery makes him top prospect
Washington pitcher Tim Lincecum has broken school and Pac-10 records. Now he's looking forward to being one of the top draft picks next month.
It's not easy to pinpoint exactly what makes Washington pitcher Tim Lincecum stand out so much.
It simply could be the numbers the junior right-hander puts up. Numbers such as a school- and Pac-10-record 477 career strikeouts in just three seasons.
It could be the blazing fastball and knee-buckling curve that comes from the arm of the 6-foot, 175-pound flamethrower with a delivery that utilizes every part of the body -- in his words, from "my foot to my ear."
Yes, the man who is arguably the best pitcher in college baseball, the potential No. 1 overall selection in next month's MLB first-year player draft, is not immune from the occasional gymnastics move.
"People call me a freak of nature," Lincecum said. "It's not unusual for me to just start dancing around out of the blue. I like to do back flips and walk around on my hands."
Batters who face Lincecum would probably prefer he use his hands for anything except holding a baseball. This season, he is leading Division I in strikeouts (185) and is tied for the lead in victories (11 entering the weekend). Earlier this season, Lincecum also had a scoreless streak of 37.1 innings.
"I've never seen anyone dominate the way he has," Washington coach Ken Knutson said. "The big thing is, even when he doesn't have his best stuff, which isn't often, he still has enough to beat you."
Lincecum added to his accolades list by becoming the Huskies' single-season wins leader on Friday, holding Pacific to one run and four hits over seven innings in a 5-3 victory. He now owns nine of the Huskies' single-season or career pitching records.
With a 12-3 record and an ERA of 2.01, Lincecum is in contention for the Roger Clemens Award (which is presented to the top pitcher in college baseball), along with Houston's Brad Lincoln (11-1, 1.67 ERA, 141 K's) and North Carolina's Andrew Miller (11-1, 1.71 ERA, 98 K's).
Will Kimmey of Baseball America says major league scouts have definitely taken notice. All indications are that Lincecum's performance this season will earn him a top-10 -- if not a No. 1 -- selection in next month's first-year player draft.
"On talent alone, [Lincecum] is a top-10 pick, no question," Kimmey said. "He is easily among the top five pitchers in college baseball."
Although he may be one of the top players in the country, scouts reportedly continue to show concern regarding the size of Lincecum. It's a situation that is hardly new for Lincecum.
"[Scouts] talk about my size, or the lack thereof," Lincecum said. "So I have to deal with that. It's something I've had to deal with pretty much my whole life. But it hasn't been too bad."
Knutson feels like Lincecum's performance should outweigh any concerns about his small frame.
"I think he's answered all of those questions this season," Knutson said. "He's really strong. I think he has less chance of getting hurt, because of his [delivery] style."
Lincecum's mechanics are another part of his game that scouts are not used to seeing. As he and his coach describe it, he recoils at the start of his delivery, turning his back to the plate. Putting his entire body in motion, and with a long stride to the plate, Lincecum then unwinds his body as he throws.
"It's kind of a pinwheel action," Lincecum says in describing his pitching motion. "It's been told to me that [my delivery] is a combination of Kevin Brown and Sandy Koufax.
"It's the way I was taught by my father. My feeling is whatever works for me, works for me."
"He's really athletic. He really uses his entire body," Knutson said. "His arm really just comes along for the ride. His delivery isn't that unusual, but it is very dynamic. He's got great flexibility."
As the numbers demonstrate, the results can be awe-inspiring. Lincecum has fanned 10 or more batters 10 times this season, and opponents are hitting just .168 off him.
But for Lincecum, it's not enough. "My expectations of myself are greater than anyone else's," he said.
How high are those expectations? On March 31, Lincecum fanned 18 batters in a series opener against UCLA. It wasn't enough for Lincecum.
"When I had that start that I struck out 18 earlier this season, I looked back and a thought of a couple of other batters that I had two strikes on, but couldn't get them out," he said.
What about the 16-strikeout effort against Oregon State, a team currently No. 10 in the Sports Weekly/ESPN College Coaches Top 25 poll?
"It was great that we were able to get the win as a team," Lincecum said. "But personally, I was upset because I know I made a couple of mistakes. Especially the one to [Cole Gillespie]. He crushed one off of me."
Lincecum has been able to show scouts that he has more than just heat in his arsenal. He has added two more pitches this season -- a slider and changeup -- to go along with a mid- to upper-90s fastball and a devastating curve.
"He's worked on his pitches a lot, and now he has a couple of different breaking balls," Knutson said. "He's gone from a two-pitch pitcher to a four-pitch pitcher."
"Everyone talks about his fastball. But he also has an excellent breaking ball," Kimmey said. "His breaking ball is among the best in college baseball."
And despite his less-than-imposing frame, Lincecum continues to be a workhorse on the mound. He holds three of the school's six highest single-season innings pitched marks and has never missed time because of arm trouble.
"I guess it's just my lineage," Lincecum said. "My father has the same build and size as me. My body's made to recover well."
Although he has another year of eligibility remaining, Lincecum appears resigned to the fact that these are his final days in a Washington uniform.
"I'm ready for [pro ball]," Lincecum said. "I know I can always come back to school to get my degree. I'm mentally prepared for everything that the future holds for me."
Michael Freer is a researcher for ESPNU. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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