Patient Yankees make big plans for Andrew Brackman
Wednesday, March 12th 2008, 4:00 AM
Yankees figure Andrew Brackman will deliver
after he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
TAMPA - David Price made the splash of the spring so far, blowing away three straight Yankee hitters the other day with 98- and 99-mph fastballs. Anybody watching had to marvel at Price's ability and conclude that the Rays will be rewarded in a big way for making the lefthander from Vanderbilt the No. 1 pick in the country last June.
Yankees' GM Brian Cashman, however, found himself watching Price and visualizing his own dream pitching staff.
To him, Price's stunning performance was confirmation of sorts that the Yankees made the right decision in gambling on Andrew Brackman, the 6-foot-10 righthander from North Carolina State, drafting him knowing he would need Tommy John surgery on his elbow that will sideline him until 2009.
"You saw what David Price did, right?" Cashman was saying Tuesday. "Well, up until April of last year, the question in the industry was who was going to be the No.1 pick, Price or Brackman.
"So as much as the talk was about Price that day, I was thinking, 'I can't wait until our guy has a chance to get out there and feature the stuff he has.' Because he was neck-and-neck with Price until he hurt his arm, and I believe we'll see that same kind of talent when he comes back."
For Cashman, Brackman could be the missing piece in an all-homegrown starting rotation for the ages by, say, 2010, along with Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy.
"It will just take a little more of what we've been asking for around here," Cashman said. "And that's patience."
As it is, the early showings in spring training by Hughes and Kennedy, in particular, have made Cashman feel good about convincing Hank Steinbrenner to keep the kid pitchers rather than trade for Johan Santana.
The drafting of Brackman, meanwhile, was perhaps the ultimate example of Cashman's recent commitment to pursuing high-ceiling pitching talent. Similar conviction convinced the Yankees to draft Kennedy and Chamberlain in 2006 when other teams were scared off by injury concerns or performance dips.
Just as those two slipped in the draft, Brackman was available when the Yankees picked 26th only because he had injured his elbow a couple of months earlier. Until then his fastball had been clocked consistently around 97 mph, and he had a sharp-breaking knuckle-curve that made him all the more appealing, in addition to the type of athleticism that enabled him to play basketball at N.C. State for two seasons.
"He wasn't even on our radar until the injury because he was going to go so high," Cashman said. "That allowed us to have a chance, and we knew he'd probably need Tommy John surgery, but we've had a history of success with guys who had it done, and there's a 92% success rate with it throughout baseball, so we decided to go ahead and take him.
"My feeling is we're the Yankees and we should be very aggressive in going after the best amateur talent, even if it comes with some risk."
In other words, better to spend the $4.5 million guaranteed these days that it cost them to sign Brackman than the $40million it costs to sign mediocre major league starters in the free agent market.
Of course, now it's up to Brackman to make it pay off, and so far the Yankees say they are thrilled with both his work ethic and his progress since the surgery last September.
Brackman himself just sighed when he was asked about the grind of rehab.
"I've been staying at the Comfort Inn here for six months," he said in a way that made it sound like six years. "I haven't had any setbacks yet, so that keeps me going."
The arrival of spring training has been a godsend, since his deal guaranteed him a spot on the 40-man roster and a locker in the major league clubhouse. Suddenly there was a little more motivation to do his daily running with veterans such as Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and Mariano Rivera.
"This is considered heaven across the street (at the minor-league complex) and I haven't taken that for granted," said Brackman. "This gives you a feeling for what it's like. I can't wait to get back on the mound.
"The other day somebody asked me why I was wearing my cleats while I was watching the game in the dugout, and I said, 'Because I never get to wear them.'"
Like Cashman, Brackman watched Price pitch against the Yankees on Saturday and found himself thinking about how they had been equals as teammates on Team USA a couple of years ago, how they had been on the same fast track until his elbow injury.
"That made me want to get back out there even more," said Brackman. "We've got a lot of good young pitching here. It'll be nice when I can pitch in the rotation with guys like Joba, Ian and Phil."
For Cashman, that would be nothing short of utopia.