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05/11/07 10:00 AM ET

Brackman learns to handle hype

Upcoming draft brings lofty expectations for N.C. State righty

Andrew Brackman would like nothing better than to blend in with the rest of his teammates, but he has two problems. At 6-foot-10, he towers over everyone else on the North Carolina State Wolfpack squad. He also happens to be one of the most highly touted pitchers in college baseball.

Before the college season started, prognosticators had Brackman going as high as No. 2 in the draft, which was based mostly on what he did as a freshman. In 10 appearances in 2005, he went 4-0 with 43 strikeouts, 10 walks and a 2.09 ERA. Last year, Brackman was hampered by a hip injury that limited him to just 28 1/3 innings of work.

But expectations rose again after Brackman put up a 1.06 ERA in the Cape Cod League last summer. He has seen armies of scouts at each of his starts this spring. He has also received an avalanche of interview requests from both the local and national media.

"It's not really hard to block all that out," insists Brackman. "I'm kind of used to it from high school and from playing basketball here."

That's the other thing. Brackman was initially recruited to play basketball and baseball at N.C. State and did so in his first two years of college. He was no slouch on the court. As a freshman and sophomore, he appeared in nearly every Wolfpack basketball game, averaging just over seven points and three rebounds a game. He had such promise as a junior that head basketball coach Sidney Lowe recruited him all over again when Lowe caught wind of Brackman's decision to focus solely on baseball.

Yet, last fall that's exactly what Brackman chose to do, and the decision paid dividends this spring.

"I think my legs and my core are a lot stronger than when I came in straight from basketball season," said Brackman. "During basketball, I could never really do any leg work in the weight room. That's important for a pitcher to do in the offseason, because you generate a lot of power from your lower half."

On the other hand, Brackman pitched more this spring than he ever has in his life, and his arm responded accordingly.

"During the middle of the season my velocity went down a little bit, but that was because I was being stupid," he said. "I'd go in the weight room and try to get my basketball body back. Sometimes when things aren't going well, you think you aren't trying hard enough."

"He's had to deal with so many distractions and had to work through so much adversity this year, that when those things come up again in Minor League Baseball or Major League Baseball, he'll be able to deal with it more easily."
-- N.C. State head baseball coach Elliott Avent

Brackman endured a particularly tough March that prompted a wave of media coverage questioning his draft status. He opened the month with a no-decision against East Carolina, in which he worked five innings and gave up four runs on five hits. On March 24, he endured his worst start of the year, surrendering six runs -- five earned -- on nine hits in just four innings against conference rival Wake Forest.

But the right-hander recovered in April to have strong outings against ACC powers Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech and North Carolina, going seven full innings in three of those four outings. His numbers from those starts weren't spectacular -- his collective ERA was 4.05 -- and the media continued to speculate on his fallen draft stock. Scouts, however, weren't concerned.

"I've heard a lot about him sliding [in the draft], but I don't see it with the kind of stuff he has," said an American League scout. "With his size and athleticism, I think he can be a very good big-league pitcher."

Brackman's out pitch is a mid-90s fastball he can dial up to 98 mph. He complements it with a hard slider and a circle changeup he is still learning to throw.

"I didn't have a changeup my freshman or sophomore year, but I definitely need one because everything else I throw is hard," said Brackman. "Some days it's good, and other days I don't have a feel for it. But just being able to work on it this year instead of playing basketball has been very beneficial."

Other scouts say Brackman has lived up to their expectations given his circumstances.

"It's his first year pitching an entire season, and you have to take that into account," said a National League scout. "He's faced some adversity dealing with that, and I think he's responded very well."

Despite dealing with fatigue, Brackman has kept the Wolfpack in nearly every game he's pitched.

"His competitive nature has always been one of his strengths," said N.C. State head baseball coach Elliott Avent. "If you watched him toward the end of his basketball games, he always wanted the ball. He wanted to take the shot and get the rebound. Those are the traits of a winner. He doesn't get caught up in the pressure. He just goes out there and battles."

Avent, in fact, has been more annoyed with the media coverage of his star pitcher than Brackman has.

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"I think at some point he may not have had as much fun as he did in the past," said Avent. "It became all about him instead of the team. Some people may relish that attention, but he's not one of those guys."

Avent doesn't think it's any coincidence that Brackman has improved on the mound as he's learned to cope with the hype. In fact, the coach thinks the experience will help the right-hander once he's in pro ball.

"He's had to deal with so many distractions and had to work through so much adversity this year, that when those things come up again in Minor League Baseball or Major League Baseball, he'll be able to deal with it more easily," said Avent.

Brackman has grudgingly come to accept his fate. No matter how much he'd like to be just another guy on the team, his size and his talent won't allow it.

Chris Gigley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.