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09/08/10 12:30 PM ET

Yanks' faith in Brackman has paid off

Past surgery, former first-round pick key to Double-A affiliate

It's certainly been a long road for Trenton right-hander Andrew Brackman since he was selected by the Yankees in the first round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.

Brackman, who underwent Tommy John surgery before he could really get started in the Yanks system, hasn't felt like the same player who was a two-sport star at N.C. State.

Brackman's rehab took a winding road before he finally returned to the hill during the 2009 season, in which he appeared with the Charleston River Dogs. He struggled against South Atlantic League hitters, however, posting a 2-12 record to go with a 5.91 ERA.

The 6-foot-10 right-hander began this season with Tampa in the Florida State League and found a little more success. Brackman compiled a 5-4 record at the Class A Advanced level but still had an ERA over 5.00. The Yankees saw development beyond the numbers, though, and chose to promote Brackman to Double-A in the middle of the season. It was a move that gave Brackman additional confidence in himself.

"Maybe the numbers weren't there, but I felt like it was definitely time to make the move," Brackman said, citing the big skills jump between Class A and Double-A. "I feel like my pitchability had increased. It definitely boosted my confidence that they had the confidence in me to make the move."

Now, though, with Tommy John surgery firmly in his rearview mirror, Brackman is back on track and ready to continue his ascent to the Majors. Reaching The Show is the dream that led Brackman to select baseball rather than basketball, another sport at which he stood out in college. Despite the fact that Brackman will turn 25 this offseason, it's beginning to look like a path to the Majors is a strong possibility for the right-hander.

"I think I'm really close to how I was before the Yankees drafted me, and it just feels good to be healthy and contributing," Brackman said.

Brackman, who could potentially find himself knocking on the door of the Majors at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre next season, isn't looking any farther than his next start for the Thunder, who recently cliched the Eastern Division title in the Eastern League.

The timing couldn't be better for Brackman, who feels stronger with each passing start. The 24-year-old hurler finished August with a 1.35 ERA and allowed just two earned runs over his first two starts in September. Though it's been slow and steady, Brackman is pleased with his progress.

"It's been a process," Brackman said. "I can definitely tell that each day, each start, I don't know if it's my arm or my body, but it feels better -- not only mentally, with deciding which pitches to throw, but physically, too."

Brackman's development has also been aided by the presence of another of the Yankees' top prospects handling him behind the plate in Austin Romine. The two have developed a strong relationship, having played winter ball together in Hawaii in 2008. In addition to his familiarity with Brackman's arsenal, Romine himself is a highly touted prospect who can only benefit the pitcher's development.

"He's gotten a chance to see me pitch a little bit more," Brackman, a Cincinnati native, said. "Of course, I wasn't as good in Hawaii. He's grown up around the game -- you can definitely tell that. He has a good sense of what to do all around as a baseball player."

Romine and the Thunder's offense are a big reason that Trenton finds itself set to begin a playoff series against New Hampshire on Wednesday. With Brandon Laird, Marcos Vechionacci and Romine fueling the offensive output, Brackman's job is that much easier.

"I've never been a part of a team that's been able to put up runs and put up this caliber of baseball, and it's actually really fun to come to the ballpark every day," Brackman said.

The Thunder will be hoping that continues this week, as the club opens its playoff slate against arguably its greatest competition this season, the Fisher Cats. Brackman and his teammates are looking forward to competing in the Eastern League playoffs -- and performing well -- against the Fisher Cats.

"New Hampshire's going to be a really good series," Brackman said. "They've had our number pretty much the whole season, but when the playoffs come, it's a new game. ... This time of the season is really fun."

Bailey Stephens is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.