Jacob Lindgren enjoyed one of the quickest climbs from college to the Major Leagues in Mississippi State history.
Lindgren threw his final college pitch on June 2, 2014 in the Lafayette Regional, three days before being drafted in the second round by the New York Yankees. The left-handed hurler who earned the nickname 'The Strikeout Factory' received a $1.1 million signing bonus and began his ascent through the minor leagues that summer.
“I got drafted out of high school so it was a pretty big decision just for me to go to Mississippi State,” Lindgren said. “Three years later, I knew that it was time to test professional baseball out. I just kept the same mindset I had at State where if I didn't get a ground ball early, I was just going to try and strike everybody out. I kept that and made it up to Double-A the same year I was drafted.”
An invitation to Big League spring training came the following February and by May 25 – less than a year after being drafted – Lindgren was called up to make his Major League debut. It was the fastest any Yankees player had risen through the minor leagues since Deion Sanders in 1989.
Lindgren made seven relief appearances for New York in 2015, limiting hitters to just a .208 batting average with eight strikeouts in seven innings of work. He did, however, struggle with command – issuing four walks and served up three home runs.
But his stint in The Show taught Lindgren a lot of lessons, especially in a clubhouse littered with future hall of famers and perennial all-stars.
“It was definitely a little different for me because I was the youngest one in the clubhouse,” Lindgren said. “I walked in there and there's Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia – veteran guys that had been in the league for a long time. Mark Teixeira was one of my locker mates. It was a veteran team, so I just sat back and tried to take it all in and learn as much as I could.”
Sabathia bought the rookie three suits during his short stint in The Bronx while fellow superstars Rodriguez and Teixeira also purchased him a pair of suits each.
But that brief time would be Lindgren's only experience in the Big Leagues to date. He started to experience elbow soreness and underwent his first Tommy John surgery following the 2016 season.
Despite the injury, the Atlanta Braves inked Lindgren to an MLB contract worth nearly $1 million, including a small signing bonus.
Lindgren rehabbed his way back and pitched in some instructional league games at the end of 2017. The Biloxi, Mississippi native went to spring training with the Braves in 2018 before experiencing more elbow issues while throwing live batting practice. An MRI revealed the ligament from the initial surgery did not fully adhere to his body so he needed to go under the knife for the second time in 19 months.
“It was definitely devastating because I'd already basically taken off a whole season,” Lindgren said. “You start to question yourself, wondering what you did wrong and look at how you worked on different things. But at the end of the day, you just have to trust it.”
Lindgren opted for free agency at the end of the 2018 season and signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox in January 2019.
His journey back to the Big Leagues began in rookie ball last season, a level where he'd previously only pitched one game as he was plowing through in the Yankees' farm system averaging 14.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
“Pretty much having back-to-back Tommy Johns has been a grind,” Lindgren said. “It was good to get back on the field last summer. It had been since 2016 since I'd appeared in an affiliated ballgame, almost three years. Now you don't take it for granted.”
After six games in rookie ball, Lindgren was promoted to Class A for three outings and then onward to Class A Advanced for the remainder of the year. In all, he posted a 2-2 record with two saves, a 2.83 earned run average, 28 strikeouts and seven walks in 28 2/3 innings of work in 2019.
“I used that time to work on certain pitches,” Lindgren said. “Now, I feel more polished versus when I first came up and was throwing it over the plate and letting my stuff work because it moved so much and was nasty. Now I have a better feel instead of throwing it up there and letting it dance.”
Lindgren's success last season earned him a non-roster invitation to spring training with the White Sox this year. In four appearances before spring training was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 27-year old was 2-0 with one save. He also had a flawless ERA with five strikeouts and no walks across four innings of work.
“It felt good to be back there competing,” Lindgren said. “It's just getting an opportunity and making the most of them.”
Lindgren has survived three rounds of cuts through spring training thus far and is hopeful he has a spot on the White Sox staff whenever baseball is cleared to resume.
“I was throwing well and there are only like five left-handed relievers left,” Lindgren said. “I'm battling with two or three guys and there are some others who are in a long-relief role. There's five lefties left and it's pretty much going to come down to who is throwing well.
“It'll be interesting to see whenever baseball comes back because I think they're going to expand the rosters and that just gives me more of a chance to have an opportunity.”
Lindgren continues to train and throw bullpens at a private gym in Austin, Texas where he now resides with his wife, Alyssa.
Now with his Major League comeback close to completed, Lindgren credits his upbeat outlook with helping him persevere through all the injury setbacks that shaved three seasons from his career.
“The biggest obstacle to overcome was mentally,” Lindgren said. “A lot of guys who have a second (Tommy John surgery) or get hurt, they just kind of shut down and feel pity. I was able to mentally battle through things and be optimistic. I knew if I worked hard there will be positive results. It was just a matter of persistence and staying at it.”