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Monday, June 5, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Buzz builds, majors beckon for Lincecum

Seattle Times staff reporter

Tim Lincecum is going golfing Tuesday morning, whittling away the hours and the anxiety until he receives the call he waited his entire life for. Somewhere on the back nine, his phone will ring, and a major-league baseball team will make Lincecum very happy and very rich.

This is the difference a year makes.

This time last year Lincecum was coming off his worst season at Washington — comparable still to the best in school history — certain he would return for his junior season if the money wasn't right. This time last year he was sleeping when the draft kicked off.

The Cleveland Indians selected Lincecum in the 42nd round. They didn't make a serious run at him until after he lit up the Cape Cod League, closing and starting and posting a 0.69 earned-run average. By then, it was too late.

"That was probably the best decision I made, going to the Cape and not signing," Lincecum said at his predraft news conference. "I had the best outings of my life there. Everything just kind of came together."

This season, Lincecum set school records for season and career wins, season and career strikeouts and became the Pac-10 career strikeouts leader. He also captured national attention, picked up a Golden Spikes Award nomination for the nation's top amateur player, vaulted into the top 10 of the draft prospects and enlisted the Beverly Hills Sports Council to advise him.

The attention built steadily and has hit a crescendo the past few weeks. Everyone wants something from Lincecum. An interview. A photograph. Or a bullpen session, in the case of the Detroit Tigers, who asked Lincecum to fly there last weekend. (He declined, although they told his family he sits atop their wish list).

"I'm trying to relax, but it's busy, and it's tough," said Chris Lincecum, Tim's father. "He's handling it better than I am. It's like riding a roller coaster or hanging on to a tiger — you don't know when to hold on or let go."

Lincecum's actual draft slot remains something of a mystery. Baseball America ranks him the No. 2 prospect in the draft — Travis Snider of Jackson High School in Mill Creek ranks 18th and Jake Locker of Ferndale, who has said he will play football at Washington next fall, ranks 79th.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus said in a phone interview that he "could almost guarantee top 10" for Lincecum, likely somewhere between No. 6 and No. 10. His colleague, Will Carroll, said he "can't imagine him getting past the Mariners" at No. 5.

Scouts and executives are also in agreement on the range. Lincecum will go somewhere in the top 10 of a draft that is considered low on talent and high on college pitching, and he likely won't go No. 1 overall to Kansas City. The Royals were in town last weekend, but had not set up any meetings as of Thursday.

"It's a weird situation," Goldstein said. "Everyone likes him, but it's hard to find teams that are that attached to him. He seems like a lot of teams' second choice, and they might all get the guy they want in the first place."

Goldstein mentions the Mariners — "It would be really convenient," Lincecum said — the Pirates (fourth overall), Reds (eighth), Orioles (ninth) and Giants (10th) as teams that could draft Lincecum. Considering Lincecum recently put together what his UW coach, Ken Knutson, calls one of the best seasons by a pitcher in the history of college baseball, the question remains: Why so low?

Lincecum answered the question when asked what he needed to work on to be ready for the majors.

"Getting taller, getting bigger, I guess," he said. (Joking. We think.)

"It's been that way my whole life," Lincecum added. "I always had to deal with that — I was too small, this and that. It's just really old to me. There are plenty of guys out there who did the same thing — Tim Hudson, Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner, those kinds of guys. I don't think they let their size get to them."

Much has been made of Lincecum's stature. He said he's 6 feet, about 170 pounds. Goldstein jokes he's "5-11 standing on a phone book" and "160 pounds soaking wet, holding a brick." He notes that the scouting community has taken to calling Lincecum "Seabiscuit."

And almost as much has been made of Lincecum's delivery — long stride, full motion like pitchers from earlier eras and the fastest arm speed Carroll has witnessed. Ever.

"You look at his motion, and it's so unusual, you start looking for flaws," Carroll said. "I don't know if it's human nature or baseball culture, but God knows baseball is resistant to change. I just haven't found a flaw yet."

Carroll said that in the past two or three years baseball has become more accepting. He points to Dontrelle Willis of the Florida Marlins, who has a delivery as unusual as Lincecum's, but without Lincecum's efficiency, and is still regarded as a top-shelf starter. Carroll also notes that about 10 teams have motion analysis, tests that would show how much stress Lincecum's motion puts on his shoulder and his elbow.

Neither Lincecum is worried about injury. Chris Lincecum created that motion and spent years perfecting his son's delivery. He points to smaller athletes and unorthodox athletes in all sports when discussing it.

"If I hear one more person say 'unconventional delivery,' I'm going to hit them," he said, laughing. (Again, joking. We think.) "That's just the way it is. He's not normal. But it's always worked for him."

All the way until now. Until Tuesday and the phone call on the golf course.

Lincecum plans on trading in his 1990 Ford Ranger for a Mercedes SL 55 or SL 500 with his signing bonus. He welcomes the opportunity to pitch in a major-league bullpen this summer, and he's regarded as the closest to major-league ready of the college pitchers.

"I don't want to sound arrogant, but I think I could be," Lincecum said. "You see guys like [Oakland Athletics closer] Huston Street. You have to have that confidence. It's not farfetched at all."

The only question left is when the call will come.

"Teams are throwing around bonuses of $2.5 million, maybe $3 million," Goldstein said. "Some teams get a little bit antsy about giving that to a guy who's a little bit unusual. I mean, no one ever got fired for choosing something safe, for choosing IBM. It could be a mistake. I can see some teams making a mistake and passing on him."

Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or gbishop@seattletimes.com

Draft hotshots
Baseball America lists seven players from Washington among the top 200 prospects for Tuesday's draft:
No. Pos. Player College (or high school)
2. RHP Tim Lincecum Washington
18. OF Travis Snider Jackson HS (Mill Creek)
79. RHP-OF Jake Locker Ferndale HS
105. SS Stephen Englund Bellevue HS
135. SS-3B Steve Marquardt Columbia Basin CC
140. OF Curtis Dupart Woodinville HS
151. OF Colin Curtis Arizona State (Issaquah HS)

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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