SCRANTON, PA. — The waiting seemed to be over for Andrew Brackman.
After signing a Major League contract after being selected by the Yankees in the first round of the draft four seasons ago, his debut was delayed by Tommy John surgery in 2007 and an appendectomy in 2008 that put off his first pro innings until 2009.
Those innings did not particularly go well.
The soft-spoken 25-year-old got hit around all year to the tune of a 2-12 record and 5.91 ERA in 106 2/3 innings at Low-A Charleston, and was sent to the bullpen towards the end of the season to try to turn things around.
After showing more than just flashes of brilliance last season in Double-A Trenton, it’s been more “hurry up and wait” than it has been progress this year.
That run two years ago with the Riverdogs seems remarkably similar to what’s happened with the 6-foot-10, 230 pound righty this season in Triple-A Scranton. In 11 starts, he went 2-5 with a 6.75 ERA and walked 40 batters, while striking out just 39 in 52 innings of work. The transition to the bullpen arguably hasn’t gone much better, as he’s allowed runs in seven of his nine outings and has a 13.50 ERA in relief. But Brackman says the parallels between 2009 and 2011 stop there.
“I think it’s different than the Charleston struggles,” he said.
“I didn’t really have a feel for it in Charleston, but I know what I need to do here to turn it around. It’s just a matter of time.”
The struggles this season are all the more puzzling because of what Brackman was able to do last season. After enduring some struggles in an up and down stay in High-A Tampa, he was promoted to Double-A Trenton. While inconsistent at times, he seemed to put it all together towards the end of the season, and posted a tidy 3.01 ERA and 70:30 K/BB ratio in 80 2/3 innings while calling Waterfront Park home.
“I would just say that Triple-A’s a different level. It’s definitely a jump up from Double-A and this is my first go-around here. Some guys figure it out sooner than others,” Brackman said.
“Everything will come together sooner or later. I’ve just got to come to the park every day and keep trying and having a good attitude, even though things aren’t going very well. But you can’t really change it, you just have to work towards the future.”
That’s a future that Yankee officials still feel is a bright one, despite the struggles he’s endured. Scranton pitching coach Scott Aldred has been working with Brackman all season, and is confident that…well, Brackman’s confidence will return.
“When guys don’t do well, they’re not riding the highest level of confidence,” Aldred said.
“He needs to piece it together an inning at a time and hopefully build on one inning, then the next inning. As they become better innings and he throws the ball better, the confidence will be there eventually.”
The confidence that was so clearly with Brackman last year seems to have left him this season. So too has some velocity on his fastball, one that was touching 95 MPH in Trenton, but couldn’t get over 91 on Wednesday in Scranton. But there is hope, as Brackman was recently pouring over video from his starts in Trenton last year with Aldred, hoping to recapture that form.
“He’s athletic and he repeats his delivery fairly well. That part of it, I think, is just fine. It’s other aspects, pitchability concerns,” Aldred said. “He’s not able to throw his breaking ball behind in the count when he needs to all the time. He can at times, but not all the time. So he has a real traditional, straightforward approach; fastball is secondary. And patterns get made.”
Aldred also provided insight as to some of the more technical corrections he’s been trying to work with Brackman on.
“We’re trying to get his ball flight a little bit better and get the ball to come out of his hand a little bit cleaner,” he said.
“He’s got a pretty solid mechanical delivery. He just has to command the ball better. He makes a lot of mistakes and he’s paid for it. Just teaching him how to pitch and working getting the backspin back to the ball as opposed to the cutter spin. We’ll see where that takes us.”
As for Brackman, he’ll continue to take the ball every few days for Scranton manager Dave Miley, hopeful that the second half of the year will be much kinder to him than the first.
“This isn’t really the season I planned on having. It’s still the first half and I can turn it around,” Brackman said.
“It’s just, you know, I can’t really explain it. There’s nothing wrong physically. I just need to get back on track and get some confidence and go out there and throw like I know how to throw.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com