LOWELL — Baseball at the minor league level is a game of constant adjustments.
The biggest adjustment many highly-rated prospects have to make is learning to deal with failure for the first time in their career.
The transition to professional baseball hasn’t gone as smoothly as Cole Brannen would have liked. A 19-year-old outfielder who possesses numerous tools, Brannen was drafted in the second round, 63rd overall, by the Boston Red Sox in the 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft after batting .439 (36-for-82) with five home runs, three triples, 23 doubles and 22 stolen bases as a senior in high school in Westfield, Ga.
Brannen, who has plus-speed and is sound defensively with an above average arm, hasn’t been able to consistently replicate the sweet left-handed stroke that caught the attention of major league scouts thus far in his brief time in Boston’s minor league system.
Like a set of misplaced car keys, the mechanics in a swing in need of fine-tuning can be difficult to locate. Brannen started this season by being promoted to the Single-A Greenville Drive in the South Atlantic League, where he batted .157 (20-for-127) with a triple, four doubles and nine stolen bases in 10 attempts. In hopes of getting him out of his batting slump, the Red Sox have assigned Brannen to the Lowell Spinners so he can re-discover his stroke in the short-season New York-Penn League and jump start his promising pro career.
Brannen has been working hard with Spinners’ manager Corey Wimberly and his staff. He is determined to realize his potential this summer.
“I’m glad I got in the slump I did at the beginning of the year because it only made me stronger as a person and as a player,” said Brannen. “Right now, I’m super confident at the plate and it feels really good. I’m ready to get after it.”
Brannen stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 185-pounds He spent nearly all of last summer with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. In the GCL, he batted .231 (31-for-134) with two doubles, seven RBI and nine stolen bases while posting an impressive .383 on-base-percentage, after drawing 30 walks. Brannen was called up to Lowell late in the season last year and had a triple in nine at-bats while drawing four walks.
“This game is a process,” said Spinners hitting coach Nate Spears. “You have to be able to trust the process. He’s only a year into pro baseball and he’s right out of high school. So the ceiling is high. He’s not anywhere near his full potential yet. It will come with experience. Once you do deal with that failure he’s experiencing, I think it’s easier to deal with failure.
“The first time you fail and you haven’t failed before it’s tough to get yourself out of the ditch. Having dealt with that failure (myself in pro ball), I’m trying to walk him through it. Letting him know this is all normal. It’s better to go through it now than at the upper levels where you can start swimming in your own head and feel like you are drowning. After this he’ll know you can still stay afloat. His baseball IQ on the bases is outrageous. His swing is coming along. He’s going to be a good hitter for us.”
Brannen is working hard in the batting cage. He believes the results will lead to a productive summer at the plate.
“I never get down on myself,” said Brannen. “Like everybody has heard a million times you have to trust the process. There was a reason I went through it. Looking back at it now, it was so I could go back down to extended (spring training) and just hit the reset button and really make some adjustments that I needed to make.
“I’m really glad I went down there because I’ve gained a lot of confidence at the plate. I feel really good now.”
Brannen has impressed Wimberly with his attitude and skill-level.
“He’s a grinder,” said Wimberly. “He, obviously, had a tough time up in Greenville. But he came down to us toward the end of extended spring training and I have nothing but good things to say about the kid. He came in without a bad attitude. He was very humble. He’s hustled.
“He’s made a few adjustments with his swing and started hitting the ball a lot better. He’s always taking the positive out of each situation. He’s a great kid. I think he’s going to grow up to be a pretty good ballplayer.”
Brannen has already proven to be a difference-maker on the base paths and in the outfield. Now he’s eager to continue navigating his learning-curve in the batter’s box.
“The day-in and day-out part of the game (has been my biggest adjustment coming from high school),” said Brannen. “Playing every day. Once you get that transition down, it makes things a lot easier. I love it now. Playing every day is great because if you have a bad game one day, you get to come to the park tomorrow and reset and do it all over again.”