May 30, 2007
RALEIGH What happened to Andrew Brackman this year?
That was perhaps the most intriguing question of the spring at N.C. State, as Brackman struggled much of the time in his first year devoted solely to baseball.
During the regular season, he was 6-4 with an earned run average of 3.81, fourth-best on the team. He was 3-4 with a 4.53 ERA in league games, and he dropped below All-ACC second-teamer Eric Surkamp as the ace of the pitching staff as the season progressed.
None of this should stop Brackman from being one of the top picks in the Major League Baseball draft on June 7, because his fastball clocked as high as 99 miles per hour and his obvious potential continue to impress scouts and general managers. Baseball America had him listed as its No. 5 prospect in its most recent evaluations.
But it's a baffling situation anyway.
Brackman made the decision to give up basketball and concentrate on baseball last fall, on the premise that it would give him the entire fall and winter to train, and then a full season in the regular rotation.
He was limited to 10 appearances as a freshman, going 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA. He joined the team late, after the basketball team reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Then he was limited to seven games as a sophomore (1-3, 6.35 ERA), before getting shelved with a stress fracture in his hip.
The new plan presumably was going to translate into more wins, more strikeouts and a lower ERA.
It was a season filled with ups and downs and plenty of frustrations, though. In one stretch, he lost several miles per hour on his fastball, partly because of issues with mechanics and partly because of the wear of throwing significantly more innings than in the past. He lost command of his curveball and went through stretches of wildness, again because of issues with his mechanics. His confidence sagged some as a result.
Brackman's explanation for the problems was that even though he stopped playing basketball, he continued his basketball weight-lifting regimen and bulked up too much, and lost some velocity as a result. He said he got restless from not playing basketball and would find himself in the weight room late at night lifting, because he had more spare time on his hands.
If Brackman believes that was the problem, then obviously it was part of the problem.
SCRUTINY, MECHANICS CONTRIBUTE
Others believe there was more to it than that.
They think Brackman was affected by the pressure of having major league scouts watching and clocking every pitch, knowing that every move he made was under intense scrutiny. They feel that having the draft looming was a detriment, knowing that where he went in the draft could have a huge impact on how much bonus money he eventually will receive.
N.C. State baseball coach Elliott Avent has downplayed the weightlifting issue.
"It was kinda overplayed how much it was a hindrance," Avent said, "but I certainly don't think it was a plus."
Avent points more to the "dead arm" that came with extensive innings, and the issues with mechanics that developed over the course of the season. They are the kind of mechanics issues scouts figure can be corrected quickly if they haven't been fixed by the time Brackman is drafted.
"Every pitcher goes through a little bit of dead arm," Avent said. "This is the most innings Andrew has ever pitched, which is what the scouts wanted to see. One of the big decisions on him giving up basketball was always, the scouts knew how good he was in 27 innings, they wanted to see how good he was in 80 innings. And they've seen it. So he's answered those questions."
The problems with wildness and lack of command with the curveball and the issues with mechanics, Avent said, will be corrected.
"The problem we're talking about is minuscule," Avent said. "You're talking about a guy who still has hit 99 miles an hour this year, and in my lifetime I don't remember anybody hitting 100."
Avent maintained that Brackman handled the constant attention well. But he does think it was a significant part of the problem this year.
"The media attention, that's one thing," Avent said. "He's used to that from basketball. The attention of 30 professional baseball clubs, that's been a different story. I don't think anything I could have done before the season could have prepared him for that. That's just something he's got to deal with. And I think dealing with all the things he's had to deal with this year, it's been amazing.
"How much it's helped or hurt this year, only he can answer that. I think it has hurt him a little bit. I think he's handled it remarkably, but it has hurt some."
That's one reason why Avent is hoping that Brackman doesn't get called up to the big leagues too quickly after he is drafted. Brackman has a mild-mannered personality and has had moments in basketball and baseball when he seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight. So Avent is hoping that Brackman can get a solid minor-league foundation to where he's physically and mentally ready for the demands of the majors.
"I hope they don't think about putting him in the big leagues right away," Avent said. "Not that he couldn't do it. He'd throw 95 miles an hour, and if you watch a game tonight, a lot of people won't do that. He's prepared to go out there and pitch in a major league game right now and do well. But I grew up in an era where nobody went straight to the big leagues, and if they did, it didn't work out. And now, it seems like everybody likes to do that.
"I guess it's the money they're paying these players. They feel they have to put their highest-paid people in the big leagues. But he's still got to develop. That's why this year has been great for him. He has learned so much this year and went through so much this year that it's going to help him so much in the next three or four years, hopefully in minor league baseball.
"Hopefully, he'll get a chance to develop there a little bit. He is a guy who could go to the big leagues right away and get people out. But is it the best for his longevity? Without a doubt, no."