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.
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After things took a turn for the worst, Brackman was moved to the bullpen in late July. As scouting director Damon Oppenheimer said in his interview with Mike Ashmore, “sometimes you have to deviate from the plan a little bit and take a step backwards to go forwards.” The move was also made in part to control his innings, but more importantly something had to be done to at least limit the damage.
Surprisingly, Brackman was actually pretty decent out of the bullpen, putting up a 2.57 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. His peripherals were encouraging as well:
He did allow at least one run in five of his first six relief appearances, but his final four outings were nothing short of stellar. In ten innings Brackman allowed just six hits and struck out nine, but more importantly he didn’t walk anyone, didn’t hit anyone, and didn’t chuck any wild pitches. Oh sure, it definitely might just be a small sample size fluke thing, but if nothing else it at least gives him a reason to keep his chin up after such a trying year, and the Yankees a reason to be cautiously optimistic.
I don’t have any information on how Brackman’s stuff looked as a reliever, and I’m very curious to see if anything played up. If you stumble across any info, please, send it my way. Baseball America’s year-end Prospect Hot Sheet just notes that he showed “an average fastball that often dipped into the 80s, a diminished curveball and well below-average control” throughout the year, which echoes what we’ve heard the last two days.
As a whole, this was unquestionably a disappointing year for the big guy. Instead of progress there was regress, and the only signs of encouragement came from four meaningless relief appearances at the end of the year when Charleston was already out of the playoff race. However, despite all that, it would be incorrect to call it a lost year of development. Adversity isn’t the worst thing in the world for young players, as people learn more from the bad times than they do the good. Whether or not Brackman can put whatever lessons he’s learned into practice remains to be seen.
If there’s one thing to accept as a no strings attached positive, it’s that he stayed healthy all year and made every appearance asked of him without incident, crossing the 100 IP mark for the first time in his life. Brackman can head home for the winter knowing the elbow held up all season and that he at last finished with on a little bit of a high note. Durability is one less question he’ll have to answer in 2010.
As easy as it would be to write Brackman off after the brutal year he just went through, it’s definitely too early to call it quits on the kid. Depending on how his Spring Training goes, he could be assigned to High-A Tampa to start 2010, although heading back to Charleston is a distinct possibility. I assume the team will have Brackman give it another go as a starter, as they should because they don’t have anything to lose by letting him pitch out of the rotation in the lower levels next year or even the year after.
Of course, if his stuff and control doesn’t come back soon, it’s not going to matter where he’s pitching.