Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Peep this Prospect: Andrew Brackman

Meet Andrew Brackman.

Andrew Brackman was a dual-sport athlete in high school, excelling at both basketball and baseball. As a pitcher, he posted a 1.04 ERA his senior year, and Baseball America named him the 4th best prospect in Ohio for the 2004 draft. Brackman went to NC state, where he played both basketball and baseball.

In his freshman year at NC State, he was fantastic: 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA in 10 appearances as a reliever and a starter. A hip fracture caused Brackman to miss his sophomore year, but his dominant performance in the Cape Cod Summer League earned him acclamation. In his junior year, he was back to his old tricks, putting up a 3.81 ERA over 78 innings, striking out 74 in 13 games. Brackman missed the end of the 2007 season, though, with elbow injuries. Due to concerns about his past injuries, Brackman was a hotly debated prospect in the 2007 draft. His upside, some said, was worthy of a top 15 pick. But Brackman remained a very risky pick.

Enter the Yankees. New York drafted Brackman with the 30th pick of the 1st round, and Yankees fans rejoiced. Soon after, Brackman signed a 4 yr, 4.55M deal with a $3.35 million signing bonus. The deal included team options for 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Shortly after signing, Brackman underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2007. This was no surprise to interested watchers. He made his first affiliated starts this past winter in the Hawaiian Winter League, with mixed results: 34 IP, 31H, 5.56 ERA, 25 BB, 36Ks. The walks were high, but typical for pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery. This spring, the Yankees assigned Brackman to Low A Charleston for his first full season of professional ball.

Andrew Brackman is 6'11", although some say he is closer to 7'0". He initially weighed 270 lb, but dropped down to 230lb over the past season with a renewed focus on conditioning and training. As Tyler Kepner noted, only five pitchers in major league history have been as tall as him. With tall pitchers, the biggest concern is creating repeatable mechanics and synchronizing all parts of the delivery. This will be paramount for Brackman this year. Here is a lovely slow-mo 3B-side video of him pitching for NC State.

Andrew Brackman slowmo

He doesn't have the worst mechanics in the world for a giant freak of a pitcher but it does seem like his arm is late and drags through the plane. Of course, it is only one clip of one pitch.

Now to the fun stuff: the upside. Mostly everyone agrees that the perfect-world scenario for Andrew Brackman is an unquestioned #1 starter, a pure ace. He has the stuff and the size to be one of the best pitchers in the game. People have always known this - he was a candidate for the top pick in 2007, over David Price. Virtually no one expected Brackman to slide as far as he did. Mike Axisa from the estimable River Ave Blues put it thusly:

RE: Brackman. I know all about him, but I’m not overly thrilling considering his limited track record (just 70 IP career at NC State). That said, I think there’s a better chance the Yanks will draft Jesus Christ than have Brackman fall all the way to 30.

Brackman's repetoire is a four-seam fastball that usually sits between 94-96 mph, and occasionally hits 99. Yowza. He also throws a good 2-seamer with late life. His knuckle-curve comes in at 78-81 mph, and may be his best pitch. It rates an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Brackman also throws a changeup. Don't forget - he's taller than Randy Johnson so he is virtually on top of hitters before he releases the ball.

This is why NoMaas' Lane Meyer was so unbelievably pumped when the Yankees got Brackman. The entire piece is too long to blockquote, so I'll pick out the best parts. The whole thing is worth reading, though.

Brackman wasn't just a "top talent” like any other draft pick, he was a "unique talent," too. Every year there are pitchers in the MLB draft that throw in the upper 90s, and they are considered the cream of the crop – the top talent available. Every year there are also the unique talents, too; the guys that have an advantage over the rest of their peers simply because of the way they are constructed physically. Most often, those players that are uniquely talented regarding their body types are not the top talents in the draft based on their raw performance skills. Teams may be interested in a guy because he’s 6’8” and throws in the low 90s, because they see his unique talent (size) and perceive the chance to work with him to raise the performance talent (his velocity) to an elite level. Conversely, there are players (think Daniel Bard) that draw interest from a “top talent” perspective, but aren’t unique from their peers from a developmental standpoint going forward – they don’t have anything about them physically that causes them to be seen as more intriguing than a similar performance talent.

This is what has me so excited. Brackman is both a unique talent, in that he stands nearly seven feet tall, and an elite performance talent seeing as he sits in the mid 90s, topping out around 99 mph. His height can be a plus because the ball is released much closer to the plate than it is from a normal-sized pitcher, and thus gives the batter that much less time to execute a task that already pushes the limit of a human being’s reflexes and reaction time. This is why the Mariners were so excited about Ryan Anderson. This is one of the major reasons that Padres 6’10” pitcher Chris Young, despite sitting in the 88-92 range, is able to blow a fastball by Major League hitters. This is the reason that when Randy Johnson was in his prime hitters had almost no chance at catching up to his heater. A 97 MPH fastball thrown by Brackman from a release point nearly a foot closer to the plate is the equivalent of a normal-sized pitcher throwing 100 MPH or more.


HOWEVER, despite all of the potential pitfalls along the way, it is impossible to argue that Brackman has not only elite talent, but also a uniqueness physically; he literally has almost no comparables in the history of the sport. That is why he is so exciting to think about now. Originally the worries were about whether or not he would need surgery. Well, he did, he had it, and is now on the mend. The guessing game over his health is concluded, and what’s left is a prospect with a higher ceiling than perhaps any minor leaguer in any organization. Sure, that designation is nebulous, but when you consider everything already discussed here, it is difficult to think that any other player could have a greater upside than him.


He is going to be the single most fun prospect to follow in the coming months, regardless of the ultimate outcome of his career. If he fails it’s not because the Yankees made a terrible decision, it is because the flaws that every prospect has prevented him from developing. It is for the same reasons that the majority of first-round picks never amount to anything significant. However if he succeeds…oh man if he succeeds…

Now you know Andrew Brackman. We will be following him all year long.

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