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Pirates Prospects

Changed Plans Resulted in Big Season for Jack Brannigan

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Homestand 1, Pirates' Single-A affiliate Bradenton Marauders face the Clearwater Threshers at LECOM Park, Bradenton, Florida (Photos by Jonathan Austin)

In an era where Shohei Ohtani is the gold standard for Major League Baseball players, all 30 teams across the league are hoping to find their own two-way sensation.

The Pittsburgh Pirates looked like they were going to give that chance to Jack Brannigan, who was announced as a two-way player when he was selected in the third round of the 2022 draft out of the University of Notre Dame.

Brannigan excelled as both an infielder and a relief pitcher for the Fighting Irish in his junior season. That year, he helped lead Notre Dame to a trip to the College World Series.

Playing his college ball in South Bend was everything he could have asked for.

It was a blast,” said Brannigan after a workout at spring training. “My dad went there, so it was pretty much a dream come true for me being able to go there. I was able to catch a lot of football games which was a lot of fun.

“We had two pretty good seasons. Made it to the super regional my sophomore year and then made it to Omaha my junior year. I really couldn’t ask for anything more.”

While it looked like Brannigan would have a chance to begin his professional career both as a position player and pitcher, plans change.

Brannigan got injured towards the end of his final collegiate season and wasn’t pitching at the time. The Pirates eased the now 23-year-old into action strictly focusing on his position player duties. He totaled 26 games between rookie ball and Low-A Bradenton after being drafted.

As it turns out, Brannigan’s focus on hitting and fielding would stick even after getting healthy. Last spring, the Pirates informed him to not worry about pitching. In the end, it’s what Brannigan desired.

“That was something I always wanted to do,” he said. “I always wanted to hit but I was okay with pitching too. I understood that I threw pretty hard and I was willing to do both, but I really wanted to hit I didn’t just wanna be a pitcher. When they came to me last year and said what they were thinking positionally, I took it and ran with it because that was exactly what I wanted.”

The decision paid early dividends. Brannigan put together an impressive 2023 campaign between Bradenton and High-A Greensboro.

Between the two levels, he slashed .275/.390/.524 with 14 doubles, three triples, 19 home runs and 54 RBIs. He also showcased his speed with 24 stolen bases in 27 attempts.

Brannigan possesses an interesting skillset of on-base ability, speed and sneaky power. Now that his sole focus is on hitting, he feels he is better able to utilize his abilities.

“It definitely helps,” he said on the Pirates’ decision. “Instead of splitting up your time and trying to find time to hit and also find time to pitch, you can just dive in with a singular focus. I think it’s definitely helped, especially with the long season. I’m sure it would have been more difficult on the body if I was doing both the whole time.”

Brannigan’s 19 home runs and .249 ISO were perhaps the most eye-opening statistics from his first full-season in the organization.

Though he’s relatively new to professional baseball, he possesses a keen eye at the plate. That same approach he uses to draw walks helped him improve his ability to impact the baseball.

“There’s big talk about approach and I would say as I had more professional at-bats my approach kind of changed. I think that getting good pitches to hit and focus on getting those pitches early, that’s what led to it. Just picking better pitches to swing at.

Brannigan enters the 2024 season ranked as the Pirates’ 10th-best prospect according to MLB Pipeline. He climbed 10 spots on the organizational ranking from last year.

Perhaps another year of only hitting will propel him to another boost in rankings as he climbs the system.

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