Johnson: Brackman a Disappointment?

Pack Pride's Austin Johnson looks at Andrew Brackman's performance so far and how it affects his prospects for the Major League Draft in June.

Andrew Brackman faced some pretty unrealistic expectations before he even threw his first pitch in the 2007 season.

Committing to baseball was going to make the 6'11 right-hander a dominant force. He was a preseason All-American, projected top-5 draft pick and the subject of countless stories.

His coach, Elliot Avent, called the expectations 'silly'.

"People expect him to be eight feet tall," Avent said in January. "They not only expect him to not lose a game but not to give up a hit. The expectations for that guy are so unrealistic. They are trying to make him into a show that doesn't exist. Andrew Brackman is almost like a fairy tale – like 'Jack and the Beanstalk.'"

With expectations sky high, it's not surprising that Brackman's season hasn't quite met them. The righty enters this weekend's action with a 6-2 record, a 3.31 ERA and 48 strikeouts in nine starts.

Those are good numbers, but they aren't as good as the line he delivered as a freshman, when he was 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA in his post-basketball stint. Expectations were that he could match or even best those numbers with a year focused solely on pitching. Brackman himself is the first to admit he hasn't lived up to his full potential.

"To date I've underachieved a little bit," Brackman said. "Coming in I expected myself to do a little better."

Elliot Avent won't buy into the talk about Brackman disappointing though.

"He's been outstanding," Avent said. "With the pressures that young man has had imposed upon him, the expectations upon him were absolutely silly. I think he's learned that people's expectations aren't what he should be. He's learned to focus on how he can be better every day and he's been outstanding. He's had a great year."

While Brackman has certainly had a good year, he hasn't been the best pitcher on his own team - much less in the conference or nationally. Eric Surkamp, a left-hander who's been pitching on most Fridays, lays claim to that title. Surkamp doesn't have the wins that Brackman does thanks to some tough luck, but he's tied with Brackman in strikeouts and has him bested in ERA and opponents are hitting just .235 against him.

One reason for his problems has been an inability to throw strikes. The junior flamethrower, not exactly renowned for his control to begin with, has had even more trouble this spring. He's walked more batters than just two other pitchers in the ACC, and is tied for second in hit batters and wild pitches. The problem, Brackman says, has been his mechanics.

"My mechanics have gotten out of whack and I'm trying to get those back into place so I can throw like I did during the summer," Brackman said.

It was in the summer that Brackman earned much of the hype that followed him into the season. Pitching in the Cape Code league, generally considered the top summer league for college prospects, he blew everyone away. Brackman was throwing in the high 90s and overpowering hitters, exiting the league with a 1.06 ERA in 17 innings.

The performance, coupled with his decision to focus on baseball this season, shot him near the top of everyone's draft board according to Kevin Goldstein, a prospect guru who writes for Baseball Prospectus.

"Scouts were hoping that with baseball only he'd learn all the aspects of pitching that aren't about being 6'11 and throwing in the upper 90s," Goldstein said.

Brackman's first game of the year was a spectacle, with a hoard of scouts staking out a spot behind home plate to watch the junior's first live action of the year. The crowd of radar guns has died down a bit since then, but not by much.

"It may not be the 30 [radar] guns, it may be the 20 checkbooks that are up there," Avent said. "The normal scout doesn't come see Andrew Brackman; it's always a scouting director or the assistant GM, the GM. But I don't think any of that bothers him."

Despite numbers below the lofty hopes of fans and media, the guys holding the radar guns and checkbooks had a different set of expectations. There are scouts who say Brackman has performed as advertised so far this year.

"To me he's done what is expected," said one MLB scout. "This is really the first year that he's pitched summer, fall and spring."

Indeed, one of the oft-overlooked aspects of Brackman switching to just baseball this season has been how he would hold up under a normal workload. Having played basketball all through high school and college, 2007 is the first time he's pitched full-time. Brackman admits the adjustment hasn't been completely smooth.

"It's been a little tough," Brackman said. "You just have to keep on doing your arm exercises and keeping your shoulder strong."

How that arm and shoulder hold up over the last half of the season will be key. With the schedule getting even tougher, the junior will have plenty of opportunities to shine against the best teams in the nation. He'll face No. 2 UNC, No. 5 Virginia and No. 14 Clemson before the end of the season. One scout believes that if Brackman can end his season on a high note he'll answer some of the questions about his durability.

"It makes you feel a little better to see it," he said. "By see it I'm mostly talking about velocity and pitchability. If he has those towards the end of the year then you can say he did it in the summer, at the beginning of the season and at the end."

Even if he doesn't finish the season with a streak reminiscent of his summer performance, Goldstein believes he'll still be one of the first players off the board in June.

"He's not the No. 2 pick anymore," Goldstein said. "But he's still in single digits. He hasn't really hurt himself. The bottom line is that in two months he's going to be a millionaire."

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