Pirates promote Branson to hitting coach
The Pirates covered for the departure of Jay Bell the most natural way possible, on Monday appointing Jeff Branson hitting coach and adding Jeff Livesey to manager Clint Hurdle's Major League coaching staff.
Branson served last season as the assistant hitting coach to Bell, who has moved on to serve as bench coach for new Cincinnati manager Bryan Price.
If the promotion seemed obvious from the outside, it didn't to Branson, who is "definitely honored to do it, and excited to get started."
Livesey's role was not yet identified, but he is a logical successor to Branson's former role as the assistant hitting coach. The 47-year-old Livesey has been an integral part of the Bucs' Minor League system for 11 seasons, the last three as Minor League hitting coordinator.
Branson had joined the big league club after four seasons as Triple-A Indianapolis' hitting coach, a role in which he had to work closely with Livesey, so they will simply move their act to Pittsburgh.
"Jeff and I had a really good working relationship during my years in Indy," Branson said. "He's definitely a guy I trust. He'll help me through some things to get these guys to the point we're trying to reach."
Branson will be challenged with ensuring the Pirates make a smooth transition to their third hitting coach in as many years. The return of Bell, the club's All-Star shortstop of the early 1990s, lasted one season after he had taken over for Gregg Ritchie.
Branson, 46, doesn't think another spin of the hitting coach revolving door will be a complication, given his presence on last year's staff. He was the first assistant hitting coach employed by the Bucs.
"Having been around last year, and having had a majority of these guys at some point [in the Minors], they know me and I've got a relationship with them," Branson said. "So I don't think there will be a problem."
Hurdle and Branson share the vision of how to get the Pirates to the next offensive level. Even a breakthrough season of 94 wins left a lot of room for improvement for a team that, in several key areas, actually performed below the level of the 79-83 club of 2012.
"The constant message every day will be about being stubborn and consistent," Branson said, recounting his conversations with Hurdle. "The stubbornness has to be there to stay true to the approach no matter who is on the mound.
"Swing at pitches we want to swing at -- not at pitches the pitcher wants us to swing at. We showed signs of that last season, but we still have ways to go."