You know a player is talented when he is ranked as an organization’s third best prospect despite not throwing a pitch in his entire pro career spanning two years. The Yankees’ Andrew Brackman was highly regarded coming off of his collegiate career at North Carolina State University. Despite focusing on two sports for much of his college career (baseball and basketball), the 6’10” Brackman made huge strides from a developmental standpoint and posted solid numbers in his junior year after focusing solely on baseball.
As Baseball America – the publication that ranked Brackman as the third best prospect in the system – stated prior to the ’07 draft, “Now a legitimate 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, his upside is considerable… He’s still unrefined, but even without the polish, Brackman shouldn’t slide out of the top 10 picks.”
Unfortunately for Brackman, he suffered an elbow injury that same year and questions about his health dropped him out of Top 10 consideration in the 2007 amateur draft. Undeterred, and ecstatic to get such a quality talent with the 30th overall pick, the Yankees organization grabbed the Ohio native and handed him a $4.55 million guaranteed contract with incentives that could push the deal to as much as $13 million. Immediately after the draft, though, the organization had Brackman undergo Tommy John surgery on his wonky elbow.
That surgery caused the big righty to miss his debut season in 2007, as well as the entire 2008 season. With a strong off-season between ’08 and ’09, Brackman was finally ready to go for the 2009 season and his debut was eagerly anticipated – but with some trepidation. As Baseball Prospectus stated pre-2009, “…To paraphrase Casey Stengel, Brackman has it in his body to be great, but whether or not he will be is anyone’s guess.”
The year started off well for Brackman as he allowed 28 hits in 25.2 innings of work in April. He walked just 11 batters and struck out 26. Things began to fall apart in May (despite the 2.45 ERA). He allowed just 24 hits in 33 innings but walked 21 to go along with 27 strikeouts. He completely fell apart in June and July by allowing 41 hits and 33 walks in 28 innings. Placed in the bullpen for August and September, Brackman recovered to allow 17 hits and 11 walks in 20 innings.
Overall in 2009, he ended his first season with 106 hits in 106.2 innings of work. The biggest downside was obviously the walk total, as he posted a walk rate of 6.41 BB/9. His strikeout rate was good at 8.69 K/9 and he did a respectable job of keeping the ball in the park with a homer rate of 0.68 HR/9. Brackman’s numbers were much better when he came out of the bullpen, which is likely a result of needing to improve his stamina, as well as his secondary pitches. He was, after all, injured and unable to pitch for a year and a half. Prior to the injury he was a two-pitch pitcher with a mid-to-high-90s fastball and a plus curveball. Both pitches showed some rust post-surgery.
In reality, Brackman’s season really wasn’t that bad, especially if you ignore the ERA (His FIP was 4.66). Yes, he was old for the league and did not dominate, but he was raw for his age coming into pro ball and his control has always been issue. The 2010 season will be a big one for Brackman, who will be 24. Luckily for him, he’s in an organization that can afford to be patient. The bullpen may be the best spot for the right-hander, but he needs innings so he’ll likely remain a starter. It’s been well documented that Brackman has considerable upside if everything clicks, and that belief remains true. But there aren’t many bigger gambles in baseball.