Minor League Report: Young pitchers

Minor League Report: Young pitchers

TAMPA, Fla. -- Andrew Brackman was a two-sport athlete in college, so he's understandably frustrated, because right now, he can't even play one.

"Every now and then I think, 'If I would've played basketball, would I have had to have Tommy John surgery?'" said Brackman, who excelled in both basketball and baseball at North Carolina State. "But I don't really have any regrets. I definitely wouldn't trade it in now."

After signing a $4.5 million deal with New York that included $3.3 million in signing bonuses, who could blame him? A Yankees first-rounder in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Brackman had less than two months to entertain the thought of playing in pinstripes before he had Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery on his right arm.

A 22-year-old's first Major League Spring Training camp should be the apex of excitement, but instead, Brackman has spent it sitting, waiting and wishing.

Well, not quite.

"I'm doing everything that I possibly can," he said. "Everything that [the team does], I do, except for some throwing. But I want to get back on that mound."

After watching Brackman in college, that's where the Yankees would like to have him, too.

The 6-foot-10 hurler posted a 6-4 record and a 3.18 ERA over 78 innings during his junior year in 2007. Injuries hampered the 240-pounder during his sophomore campaign, but in his freshman season with the Wolfpack, Brackman worked a 1.29 ERA as a reliever and went 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA as a starter.

Prior to that, Brackman had the seventh-lowest ERA (1.04) in Ohio high school history.

Whether his success will roll over into professional baseball remains to be seen. Brackman's itching to see for himself. He's made headway each day and now is throwing on flat ground from about 95 feet, but the road in front of him is long and the Yankees don't expect to see him in game action until 2009.

The right-hander said the most difficult part of hearing all of the encouragement from coaches and trainers is not trying to do too much, too fast. The fastest route back to the bump, he said, is to make sure he takes each and every step along the way.

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"It's going awesome, to tell you the truth," he said. "I haven't had any setbacks yet, but it's so hard. My trainers have told me on numerous occasions to tone it down.

"I feels really good, but I don't want to have any setbacks."

On the move: So much attention has been focused on the "Big Three" of Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy that it could be easy to overlook the next crop of young pitchers on the way.

Then again, it also might be prudent to ask when the steady flow of hurlers might end. Not anytime soon, believes Nardi Contreras, the Yankees' Minor League pitching coordinator.

"All of these kids that we've brought to camp, these are special kids," Contreras said. "We've got a lot of arms that have a chance and they know it."

With much unsettled in the bullpen picture, one pitcher the Yankees are particularly excited about is right-hander Mark Melancon, a reliever who is coming off Tommy John surgery.

Melancon, who turns 23 next year, has added a changeup to a repertoire that already included a big league-caliber fastball and curveball, prompting insiders to believe that he could move quickly. He'll need to compile innings in the Minors but could see New York by the second half.

On the pine: The recovery process continues for Humberto Sanchez, a big right-hander acquired from the Tigers in last year's Gary Sheffield trade.

The Bronx-born Sanchez is also coming off Tommy John surgery and has been progressing in his rehab, increasing the distance between tosses on flat ground and on track to see a mound next month.

Sanchez is expected to begin pitching competitively by June and has been told that his focus will be as a reliever, which could help him become a candidate to help the Yankees' bullpen late in the year.

They're No. 1: Eric Duncan (2003) batted just .241 last year at Triple-A, but keep in mind that he just turned 23 in December. He's still considered a prospect. ... Hughes (2004) is projected to be in the Yankees' starting rotation. ... Infielder C.J. Henry (2005) is back in the Yankees' system after being traded to the Phillies in the Bobby Abreu trade. The club believes he can rebound after correcting vision problems that hampered him with Philadelphia. ... Chamberlain (2006) is preparing as a starting pitcher during Spring Training and could either start or relieve for New York this year. ... Kennedy (2006) has a very good chance of breaking camp in the Yankees' rotation, though he could also open at Triple-A.

Class of '07: Behind Brackman, catcher Austin Romine is in big league camp with the Yankees, helping out with bullpen sessions and the like. A second-round pick out of high school, the 19-year-old Romine will be reassigned to Minor League camp later in the spring after logging just one game with the Gulf Coast Yankees last season.

What they're saying: "I can tell you there's more on the way, because I've seen it. They might not be the caliber of a Joba Chamberlain, because there's not many Joba Chamberlains. But they will have an impact in the big leagues this year." -- Contreras, on the Yankees' developing pitching

Dawn Klemish is a contributor to MLB.com. Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.