Large And In Charge

Andrew Brackman was in better shape Friday than BA’s Stalker radar gun, which worked fine but which was not set up properly by those of us working the gun. Maybe it was the cold; more likely, we hadn’t used the gun since Alan Matthews’ trip to Jupiter, Fla., for a showcase in October. Anyway, three members of the BA team braved the mid-30s weather and cold breezes at N.C. State’s Doak Field to see Brackman–listed at 6-foot-10, probably looming at around 7 feet when it’s all said and done–make his first start of 2007.

Scouts won’t judge Brackman on individual starts or even on performance; he’ll be judged by quality of stuff and the durability he shows in his first full season as a pitcher, after splitting time between baseball and basketball his first two seasons. The two dozen or so scouts on hand Friday saw plenty–a fastball that Brackman used to pound the strike zone with consistent velocity. Our gun had him consistently at 89-92 mph, touching 93, but when we checked with scouts, we learned our gun was off (at least we caught it early), and Brackman sat in the 92-95 range, touching 97 and a reported 98, according to a local media member.

Either way, Brackman repeated his mechanics and threw quality strikes, a major plus if he can keep it up over the course of the season. He also flashed a changeup, though his arm slowed noticeably, and he appeared to throw two breaking balls–one the advertised knuckle-curve in the 78-80 mph range, thrown both for strikes and out of the zone, and the other a hard slider that came and went.

In sum, Brackman looked good. He picked up the win after allowing two runs (one earned), allowed all three of his hits in the fifth inning, walked only one and struck out three. Something to monitor–Wolfpack catcher Caleb Mangum, a fine receiver, caught Brackman but then came out when Brackman did, and is battling a shin problem that could develop into a stress fracture. The fact he still caught Brackman on such a cold day means the Pack coaching staff doesn’t trust his backups to handle Brackman’s big league stuff.

I recall similar problems in 2003 for Wake Forest’s Kyle Sleeth, who worked with a freshman catcher and lost confidence late in the spring, coming to rely almost exclusively on his fastball. I’m not sure it had anything to do with Sleeth’s career tumble, but it did seem to wobble his confidence a bit, and it’s worth monitoring Mangum’s situation. Brackman needs experience, and needs his experienced senior catcher to help him get it.