The Yankees invested a lot in Andrew Brackman back in 2007, and it finally seems to be paying off.
The 6-foot-10 right-hander impressed at Spring Training this month in Tampa, making a bid for the Bombers' rotation thanks to an upper-90s fastball that helped earn him a first-round Draft selection out of North Carolina State University and garnered him a $4.5 million contract.
"He had a hard time consistently throwing strikes [in the past], where now it appears that that's behind him," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Brackman in February. "You look at what he did the second half of last year and what he's done here in Spring Training -- he's throwing a lot of strikes. That's a big part of the battle when you're pitching."
The Ohio native's career has been hampered by injuries, though -- he had Tommy John surgery in 2007, an appendectomy in '08 and even missed the first 10 days of Spring Training last month with a groin strain.
Now healthy and throwing well, the Yankees sent him down to Triple-A in mid-March to begin the year in the Minors, but he's clearly one of the many talented young arms waiting to arrive in the Bronx this summer. MiLB.com sat down in March with the former college basketball star:
MiLB.com: The Yankees optioned you down to Minor League camp on March 16, ending what I'm sure was an exciting month in Tampa with the big club. This was your third taste of Major League Spring Training. How can you sum up the experience this year?
Andrew Brackman: It's been a different camp than compared to previous ones, I feel this year I've had a chance to help the team out, and that's what I came here to do.
MiLB.com: This being March Madness, I have to ask you about hoops. You played basketball in high school and college, and just a few years ago, you were part of the North Carolina State team that made it to the Sweet 16 of the 2005 NCAA Tournament. What was that like? Do you still follow college hoops pretty closely?
Brackman: I try to -- if I watch it too much, I start to miss it. I gotta limit what I watch or I really start to miss it. I'm a diehard NC State fan. If they're not in it, I'm not gonna watch. But it was awesome, an experience I'll never forget, just being a part of a Sweet 16 team being able to travel to those arenas.
MiLB.com: You had a pretty impressive high school baseball career as well -- 1.04 career ERA, won the state championship as a senior, going 7-0 with a 0.60 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings. What comes to mind thinking back to that year?
Brackman: It was so long ago. It was fun, being from Moeller High and being able to continue that tradition. It's awesome, to think of all the players (Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin) that came through there before me. I wanted to fill their shoes and keep it rolling.
MiLB.com: You spent a summer in Cape Cod pitching with Orleans during college. How was that experience, living out on the Cape and just being a part of that league?
Brackman: That's something that every young collegiate player wants to do -- play on the Cape. They watch the movies and everything. But it was definitely a good experience baseball-wise -- just a fun summer being able to relax and enjoy baseball.
MiLB.com: Injuries have obviously been apart of your career in both college and the Minors, and even recently with the groin. How frustrating has it been to deal with the various issues the past few years?
Brackman: You gotta hit them in stride, they happen and you want to get them over with as quick as possible and move on. You do what you can to prevent them, but sometimes it's something you just can't help.
MiLB.com: You're from Cincinnati, so I take it you were a Reds fan growing up? Did you go to a lot of games?
Brackman: I was a Reds fan and a Bengals fan. I remember going to games at Riverfont Stadium, Cingery Field -- I did go to a bunch a games. I remember the excitement when we got Deion [Sanders], the AstroTurf back in the day. Yeah, I was definitely a big Reds fan. Not anymore.
MiLB.com: The Yankees drafted you in the first round in 2007 and with that came some big signing bonus money and a long-term contract. How exciting was that, did you go out and buy anything cool right after to celebrate?
Brackman: No, I got my mom a birthday present, got her a car for her birthday -- a Cadillac -- but that's basically the only expensive thing I've gotten so far.
MiLB.com: I know you struggled at times with control coming back from Tommy John surgery, but last year it seemed like you took a big step forward -- what was the difference?
Brackman: I don't know, just experience I guess. The further away I get from surgery, the better I get. Even now I feel like every day I come in here, it's a whole different feeling. Even this year to last year, from the end of October to now, I feel my arm getting better every day. Hopefully I can get back to how I was throwing at NC State and stay healthy.
MiLB.com: Given the uncertainty with the back end of the Yankees' rotation this year, I'm sure you've thought about getting a chance to come up soon and get some starts. Would you prefer that route or just to come up as a reliever?
Brackman: I'd rather keep my role a starter, that's what I've done my whole career, and I don't see why I should change it now. But, any way I can help the team and be in pinstripes, I'm all game for that.
MiLB.com: I read you like to go fishing -- what do you go for? Any good advice?
Brackman: I like to bass fish, but I guess the ocean has started to open up my eyes a little bit. I don't have much advice -- I haven't caught that many fish in a while, but I pick it up down here when I'm bored. My dad went deep-sea fishing recently -- we've been eating redfish for the last three weeks.