Since the promotion of Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain, the Yankee pitching pipeline has been pretty mundane. We’ve seen a lot of low ceiling starting pitchers end up in the Pittsburgh rotation or surgeons table. I love David Phelps, I really do, but its hard to get really excited about him. Things are finally changing down in Tampa with Andrew Brackman, Graham Stoneburner, Adam Warren, and the return of Dellin Betances.
I knocked down Brackman’s prospect rating 9 spots just two weeks ago, and I may already be regretting losing faith so quickly. Two things have happened since. On June 14th, Brackman had his best start of the season – striking out 11 without a walk in 6 innings. And on June 10th, Mark Newman made the following comment:
SJK: Moving on to individual players and a lightening rod in the fanbase, let’s talk about Andrew Brackman. His control is remarkably better this year. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is almost 6. But, I also read reports earlier in the year that his velocity was down and his secondary pitches still needed significant work. Where does he stand right now with you?
Mark Newman: He was at 95 the other night. His secondary pitches have improved significantly. He’s made some great progress. There might be some Double-A in his future this year if he continues to perform well. This is the ‘second-year after elbow surgery’ case right here.
K/BB and velocity are the two gold standards of prospect evaluation. By both measures, Brackman appears to be a completely different type of pitcher from last season. He spent much of 2009 pitching in the high-90s, but sported some of the worst control in organized baseball. He walked 76 batters with 10 hit batters and 26 wild pitches in just 106 2/3 innings. In 2010, he’s sported a Hector Noesi-like K/BB ratio (51/7 in 55 innings) while operating at lower velocity. The news couldn’t be more encouraging, and I’m betting that at the end of the season I will be reranking Brackman higher than where he currently is at.
Andrew Brackman’s reduced velocity concerned me quite a bit at the beginning of the season. He book on Brackman was that he had a sky-high ceiling because he could throw 100 mph with a good curveball on his 6’10″ plane. In his pre-injury college high period, Brackman sported great control, and was hailed as a much better athlete than other giant MLB pitchers like Randy Johnson. A lower velocity meant a lower ceiling, especially with his declining control. He looked more like Andrew Sisco than Randy Johnson.
Of course, Brackman was just coming off Tommy John surgery. Brackman had put off his elbow surgery despite an obvious injury for a full year going into the 2007 draft. We’re probably looking at his first truly healthy performance since 2006.
We don’t have A-ball pitch counts, but I’m very curious as to whether or not Andrew Brackman is on a pitch count. He has yet to throw more than 6 innings in a game, despite a WHIP of 1.255 and a great K/BB ratio. He appears to be throwing strikes. If not, I’m concerned that Brackman is throwing too many pitches to too many batters, which would suggest that he lacks either the confidence to move off the corners, or the absence of a put away pitch. Either way, its not good news, though not catastrophic. Brackman may be learning to pitch in an environment where he isn’t going to blow away batters with a 100 mph fastball. That’s a big adjustment, and big adjustments take some time.
The biggest problem, however, is that Brackman doesn’t have a lot of time on his side. He signed a major league contract right out of college (a mistake, in hindsight) and was optioned down to the minor leagues the following spring. This means that Brackman used an option year in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Next season will be his finally option year, and the Yankees will be unable to send him down to the minor leagues in the 2012 season without exposing him to waivers. He isn’t going to pass through waivers if he is pitching well at all, which puts a very clear clock on Brackman and the Yankees.
Mark Newman mentioned that Brackman could see Double-A if he continues to pitch well this season. I think that is an absolute necessity if Brackman is going to follow any reasonable development plan to debut in New York with the Yankees. He will need to probably spend at least a little bit of time in the majors, and definitely some quality Triple-A time, for the Yankees to entrust him with a 2012 rotation spot, in 2011. Both are hard to see if he has to wait until the beginning of 2011 to see his first action with the Trenton Thunder.
Any confidence or pitch count issues will hurt Brackman especially hard when he reaches Double-A. More advanced batters will create more advanced issues for him to deal with. I still think its possible that the Yankees have Brackman on an innings or pitch limit, but if he’s not on one there will be a dilemma or Newman and the rest of the Yankee staff. Do they push Brackman in an attempt to put him on a timetable that actually could set him in the major leagues, or do they take their normal development time with him, but risk being forced to trade, waive him, or put him in the bullpen in order to ensure a MLB spot?
I’m in favor of taking a few more risks and pushing Brackman aggressively, because I’m tired of seeing Yankee pitchers starting for the Pittsburgh Pirates. We’ll see.