Former N.C. State star Andrew Brackman, a 2007 first-round draft pick of the New York Yankees, missed all of the 2008 season after having Tommy John (elbow ligament replacement) surgery.
He's pitching for the low Class A Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs this season, and the 6-foot-10 right-hander is doing what he needs to do to move up the ladder -- building up his arm strength and regaining command of his pitches.
Brackman is 0-2 with a 5.06 earned run average, but his numbers have gotten better in each of his three starts with the RiverDogs.
In his season debut on April 9, Brackman was charged with five earned runs in five innings, giving up five hits, walking three and striking out five in a loss. On April 15, he again worked five innings, giving up four hits, two earned runs, two walks and striking out three in a no decision.
Then on Monday, he pitched six innings, surrendering five hits, two earned runs and no walks while striking out eight. He took the loss, but it was a quality start.
He's taking small steps, but recovering from Tommy John surgery takes time.
Former Duke left-hander Scott Schoeneweis had similar surgery after his sophomore season in college. He told me at the time that his velocity was back when he was a junior but that it took him nearly the entire season to regain the feel for his pitches.
After a dominant senior season at Duke, Schoeneweis was a third-round draft pick in 1996 by the Angels. He's now in his 11th major league season, a relief pitcher with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Brackman's manager in Charleston, Torre Tyson, told Baseball America that the big right-hander is throwing his fastball from 92-95 mph -- slightly less than the 99 that he topped out at N.C. State, but a sign that the velocity is back.
"It's certainly not a matter of developing stuff," Tyson told Baseball America. "It's just developing command of his fastball. I think he'll always have control of his fastball -- he'll figure out how not to walk guys. But once he figures out how to command his stuff in the [strike] zone, I think we'll see him really take off."
It seems like a fine distinction. But for a pitcher to be successful as a pro, he has to be able to locate his fastball. Professional hitters can turn around a 95 mph fastball over the middle of the plate, even in Class A. But when a pitcher can move the ball up and down in the strike zone and work the corners, he can take charge.
That's the goal for Brackman.
The Yankees picked the former N.C. State star knowing that he likely would need surgery on his right elbow, but they saw a pitcher with a very high ceiling.
If Brackman regains the form that he exhibited when he was healthy and blowing away the competition at N.C. State and in the Cape Cod League and makes the improvements that will come with professional instruction and experience, his selection could turn out to be a very wise investment for the Yankees.