LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Houston Astros selected right-handed pitcher Lincoln Holdzkom from the Cubs in the first round of the Rule 5 Draft, which was conducted Thursday morning at the Dolphin Hotel, site of the Winter Meetings.

Holdskom, 24, was a seventh-round pick by the Florida Marlins in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft and was traded to the Cubs in the spring of '06. In between, he underwent Tommy John ligament transplant surgery, forcing him to miss the entire 2004 season. Once a projected top-shelf closer, Holdzkom's baseball future was stamped with a question mark.

The Astros envision the 6-foot-4, 240 pound right-hander as a potential relief pitcher and will use Spring Training to determine if he's a fit their '07 roster. Rule 5 draftees must stay at the big-league level the entire season after they're drafted, and if they do not make the team they're selected by they must be offered back to the original club for $25,000, half of what it costs to draft them.

The Astros closely followed Holdskom during the Arizona Fall League this past October and November and liked what they saw.

"He was brought back [from surgery] cautiously," scouting director Paul Ricciarini said. "He has an above-average fastball with good life, a hard slider and a hard changeup. We'll keep an open mind about him as a bullpen candidate."

Holdzkom was 2-0 with a 7.08 ERA over 13 relief appearances for the Mesa Solar Sox, allowing 16 earned runs over 20 1/3 innings with 13 walks and 21 strikeouts.

During the 2006 regular season, Holdzkom posted a combined 2-3 record with a 1.76 ERA in 25 games (one start) between Double-A West Tenn, Class A Daytona and the Rookie League AZL Cubs. He pitched 18 games for Double-A West Tenn where he was 2-3 with a 1.95 ERA.

Ricciarini is encouraged by how quickly Holdskom regained his velocity after the surgery. His fastball can reach around 93-94 mph, with good life.

On a side note, Holdzkom had quite a colorful childhood. He started playing the piano at age 2, under the guidance of his father, Christopher, a well-known pianist from Austria in the late 1960s. The younger Holdzkom appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1988, and he later contributed a song to the soundtrack of the movie "Forrest Gump."