The Pirates named Jeff Branson their new hitting coach Monday, following through on manager Clint Hurdle’s preference to keep some continuity at the position.
Branson served as assistant hitting coach in 2013 alongside Jay Bell, who left the Pirates after one year to become the Cincinnati Reds bench coach. The Pirates also promoted minor league hitting coordinator Jeff Livesey to the major league coaching staff, where he will assume Branson’s responsibility as assistant hitting coach.
“What we do as coaches, we have to build a relationship with a player,” Branson said Monday by phone. “When there’s consistently new guys coming in, then you have to build that relationship all over again. That doesn’t happen overnight.”
Branson will become the third hitting coach in three years for the Pirates, following Bell and Gregg Ritchie. Hurdle said he wanted some continuity in the message the players received.
Before joining the major league staff, Branson, 46, spent four years as the Class AAA Indianapolis hitting coach and five years as a minor league manager.
Livesey, 47, was the minor league hitting coordinator from 2011-13 after spending five seasons coaching in Japan. Livesey’s father, Bill, served as a senior advisor to Pirates general manager Neal Huntington in 2013.
“Jeff has a very, very good eye, a knack of seeing little things,” Branson said. “When he would come in this year, this past year periodically, we would rely on him some as far as seeing little things because he’s an outside eye.”
When Branson and Livesey begin working with hitters this spring, they will continue to stress the stubborn approach they want them to take regardless of whether that approach produces immediate results.
“We had times last year where we were as stubborn as anybody, and we committed to our plan and didn’t waver from our plan, and our offensive numbers were up,” Branson said.
Embracing that approach can be tough for those hitters who aren’t entrenched in the starting lineup, Branson said, particularly those who came from other organizations with different hitting philosophies.
“Intent’s gotta be there, but the commitment’s got to be there,” he said. “That’s what we have to instill in them, to drive in them every day.”
Outfield prospect Gregory Polanco was named the Pirates’ top prospect by Baseball America in their annual top 10 prospect rankings.
Polanco, 22, hit .285 with a .356 on-base percentage and 12 home runs in a 2013 season spread between Class A Bradenton, Class AA Altoona and Class AAA Indianapolis. He could make his major league debut at some point in 2014.
In 81 at-bats for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League, Polanco has hit .321, tied for fourth in the league. He has four home runs and a .439 on-base percentage.
Right-hander Jameson Taillon, who also reached Indianapolis this season and could join the Pirates next year, came in at No. 2.
Outfielder Austin Meadows and catcher Reese McGuire, the two first-round picks in 2013, ranked fourth and eighth. Both were drafted out of high school and had strong debuts for the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates and short-season Jamestown after signing.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.