Bucs continue trend of taking 2-way player in 3rd round

July 19th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- On Day 2 of the 2022 MLB Draft, the Pirates began their selections with a third-round pick that repeated some recent history.

Pittsburgh took Jack Brannigan out of Notre Dame at No. 83 overall as the first of eight Day 2 picks. Brannigan is listed as a right-hander by MLB Pipeline, but he played the vast majority of his innings in college at third base. It’s the second straight year the Pirates have targeted a two-way player in the Draft’s third round.

According to the Pipeline experts, Brannigan’s biggest calling card is a fastball that touches 100 mph and has great arm-side run. However, unlike most fireballers, Brannigan’s delivery is a lot tighter and appears to require less effort to produce that heat.

However, look at the innings he pitched in college, and it’s maybe a bit perplexing to see him as a pitcher in the pros. Brannigan had virtually twice as many extra-base hits (28) as innings pitched (14 2/3) in the 2022 season, including 12 home runs in 213 at-bats.

With Notre Dame coach Link Jarrett referring to him as maybe the best defensive third baseman in college baseball last season, it was often hard to find the right spots in games to let Brannigan show off his arm when he was so valuable on the other side of the ball.

“I make some time at practice,” Brannigan told reporters of his pitching work before the 2022 season. “Coach Jarrett is really good about it, kind of getting me down there and allowing me to get my work in. So I’m kind of finding time when I can and doing what I can to get better.”

“Are we going to use him in that role down the road? I don’t know,” Jarrett said after Brannigan’s first career start (three innings) with the Fighting Irish. “But clearly when you have a guy that can throw the ball 100 mph, we have to get him in the equation a little bit more.”

Pirates GM Ben Cherington said that the organization is definitely interested to test out his arm, but not from the jump.

"The position-player side of things will be the priority to start," Cherington said, "and then when it’s safe to do so, we’ll look to find a way to expose him to some mound work and just see where that goes. I don’t think we have that mapped out quite yet, exactly what it will look like, but he’s got a lot of talent on both sides of the ball."

As the Pirates work to map that progression out in the coming months, it is an interesting time to look back on the two-way player they picked last year in Bubba Chandler to see how they’ve allowed him to develop.

Chandler, who came in with a higher ranking than Brannigan as well as extensive starting experience in Georgia prep ball, was exclusively a hitter in game action in 2021, though that was only a taste of 30 at-bats in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League. In ’22 so far, he’s been given both opportunities, getting 35 at-bats in 11 games as a designated hitter and seven as a pitcher.

Chandler has only seen 18 innings so far as a pitcher across the Florida Complex League and Single-A, but that’s part of the plan early on as they try to manage his workload.

“The problem with any time you have a two-way guy … was always [that] throws are throws,” Pirates pitching coordinator Josh Hopper said in Spring Training. “Whether you’re throwing as a position player or throwing as a pitcher, throws are throws. And a lot of times, we don’t decipher between the two of those. We’re always like, ‘OK, well, he’s doing his pitching work. Now he’s going to do his position work.’

“No. Throws are throws.”

Brannigan is in a slightly different spot, as a college player with more games played, having been primarily used as a reliever and with fewer innings on the mound entering his pro career. But it will be another interesting puzzle for the Pirates to solve.

"There aren’t very many two-way players, and we should probably be open to the idea that even amongst that small group, they’re not all the same," Cherington said. "There are different shades of two-way players."