- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- Jacob Lindgren, the Yankees' No. 1 pick in the 2014 amateur draft, has never been to New York City, and he grew up rooting for the Minnesota Twins.
But he called his selection by the Yankees as the 55th pick in the draft, “a dream come true," and said he is eager “to begin my journey with the Yankees."
According to some observers, that journey could be accelerated for the 21-year-old left-handed pitcher, who had an outstanding season as a junior for Mississippi State after being switched from the starting rotation to the bullpen.
As a starter, Lindgren was a rather pedestrian 4-3, with a 4.18 ERA in 14 starts in his sophomore year, but after the shift turned into a strikeout machine out of the pen, fanning 100 batters in 55 1/3 innings -- a 16.3 Ks-per-nine innings rate -- and going 6-1 with a 0.81 ERA, while holding opposing hitters to a .124 batting average.
“After I moved to the bullpen, my stuff just played out better," said Lindgren, whose fastball jumped from the mid-to-upper 80s into the low-to-mid-90s after the switch. “I just feel like I’m more aggressive and explosive out of the pen. I like having the ball when the game’s on the line."
That is a similar route to success taken by the Yankees with Dellin Betances, who struggled in the minor leagues as a starter but seems to have found his niche as a reliever. Unlike the 6-8 Betances, Lindgren is on the small side at a listed 5-11 and 205.
According to Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees' director of amateur scouting, “Jacob has two major-league pitches that are above average and possess swing-and-miss quality."
The other is his slider, which Baseball America described as “vicious." Lindgren said he has been told by scouts his stuff reminds them of that of Phil Coke, the former Yankees reliever currently pitching for the Detroit Tigers.
Considering the Yankees' need for a quality left-handed arm out of their bullpen -- Matt Thornton has struggled this season as their “lefty specialist" -- some observers have said Lindgren could make it to the major leagues by next year, or perhaps even later this season.
“We’ll try to get him signed and let him pitch," GM Brian Cashman told ESPNNewYork.com via email. “After that, whatever happens will be performance-based."
Lindgren, who has one year of eligibility left at Mississippi State, indicated that his preference is to become a Yankee. “I want to sign as soon as possible and begin my journey," he said. “Everybody dreams to play for the New York Yankees and wear the pinstripes. It’s one of the biggest honors of my life."
For more on the Yankees' farm system, click here.