Two years ago, the Yankees selected righthander Andrew Brackman with their first round pick, knowing full well that he might need elbow surgery at some point, perhaps as soon as that summer. Brackman showed tremendous raw stuff and considerable potential as an amateur, the reasons why he was ranked so high in pre-draft rankings (Keith Law had him as the third best prospect in the draft class). The Yankees were willing to gamble and wait on his talent, especially with a pick so late in first round.
As expected, Brackman underwent Tommy John surgery soon after signing a Major League deal worth $3.35 million guaranteed with incentives that could push the total value of the contract to $13 million. At the time, it was potentially the richest contract in draft history. Brackman spent all of 2008 rehabbing but returned to action in the now defunct Hawaii Winter Baseball League last fall where he was ranked the number two prospect by Baseball America (subs. req’d).
Brackman’s long awaited full season debut didn’t go as smoothly as planned this year. It featured a few ups but considerably more downs. His overall season line — 106.2 IP, 106 H, 79 R, 76 BB, 103 K — isn’t pretty, and his 26 wild pitches were second most in all of minor league baseball. The way I see it Brackman’s season can be broken down into three distinct periods, which I’ll arbitrarily call Good Brackman, Bad Brackman, and Reliever Brackman.
We already took a look at Good Brackman yesterday, and now we’re going to examine Bad Brackman.
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After nine good starts with the River Dogs, Brackman’s season started the unravel at the end of May with the infamous ten walk game. The next nine starts following that one were better, relatively speaking, but still atrocious by any measure. Even though his strikeout rate remained strong at 8.49 K/9, the rest of his peripherals were downright ugly:
He managed to throw just 35 innings in those ten starts, and as ugly as the numbers are, Brackman’s stuff may have been worse. Dave Cameron of USS Mariner and FanGraphs fame took in the big guy’s July 23rd start at Greensboro, and let’s just say he came away less than impressed:
In the first inning, he sat 90-92 with the fastball, going to the outside corner against RHBs. The pitch had some decent movement down and away, and profiled as the kind of pitch that could get groundballs. His command was poor, as expected, walking the leadoff batter, but even once he got ahead in the count, it became obvious he didn’t have anything else besides the fastball. On an 0-2 count, he threw a 73 MPH curve with no tilt that bounced about a foot in front of the plate. He came back with another weak 72 MPH curve that just hung in the strike zone begging to be hit. He went back to the fastball and got through the first inning, but wasn’t impressive.
Then came the second inning. The fastball dipped down to 88, but he still popped 92 occasionally, but the breaking ball was just awful, and the Greensboro hitters were sitting on his fastball. His command went in the toilet, and the movement on his fastball ran right into LHBs wheelhouse, giving them a chance to take batting practice. Kyle Skipworth, who isn’t exactly a good hitting prospect, launched one of Brackman’s fastballs deep into the night sky. Every left-hander just pounded the fastball, and the curve simply wasn’t good enough to keep hitters off balance.
I respect Cameron’s opinion, but he’s also the same guy that said he wouldn’t trade Jeremy Reed for Jonathan Papelbon or Jon Lester, so maybe we should take his report with a grain of salt. Regardless, the key point is that not only had Brackman shown no improvement with his stuff, but his command and control had completely deteriorated.
He walked four or more batters in a game seven times in that stretch, but amazingly went walk-free in one game. It was just a tease though, because Brackman issued eight free passes in his next 7.1 IP. As if the walks weren’t troubling enough, he also uncorked 16 (!) wild pitches and plunked five batters in those 35 innings. Control always takes some time to come back after Tommy John surgery, but that’s completely unacceptable at any level.
Developing comfortable and repeatable mechanics are always an issue with tall pitchers (Randy Johnson walked 222 batters in 259.2 IP between Single- and Double-A), but such extreme control problems indicate there was more than just inconsistent mechanics at work here. I have no idea what’s behind all this, but I imagine it’s a combination of things rather than just one big core problem. I’m sure his confidence is suffering a bit, which can’t be helping things.
If there’s one positive thing we can take from this horrible stretch of “pitching,” it’s that Brackman made every start. It’s not much, but it’s important because you can’t work on anything if you aren’t healthy enough to take the mound. Brackman had one start skipped by design during this stretch, but otherwise he took the ball every five days without incident. However, with little to no progress being made, the organization couldn’t just keep letting Brackman embarrass himself by running him out there every five days.
Tomorrow, in the final installment of this mini-series, we’ll take a look at Reliever Brackman.