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Pirates notebook: Branson named hitting coach; Livesey promoted

| Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, 12:30 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
New hitting coach Jeff Branson will be in charge of turning around the Pirates' up-and-down offense.

The Pirates did not wait long or look far to hire a hitting coach.

The Pirates announced the promotion of Jeff Branson to hitting coach Monday. Branson replaces Jay Bell, who left last week after one season as hitting coach to become the Reds' bench coach.

Bell presided over an uneven offensive effort last season. Branson was the Pirates' assistant hitting coach.

The Pirates also announced Jeff Livesey will join the major league staff as a coach in 2014. Livesey spent last season working as the organization's minor league hitting coordinator.

Branson's hire was expected; Pirates manager Clint Hurdle last week said Branson was the favorite to replace Bell, and Hurdle hoped to stay internal to fill the position. Hurdle also has a role in hitting instruction, having been a hitting coach with the Rangers.

“I'm a firm believer when you have opportunity to add to your staff, you looking internally first,” Hurdle said last week. “It gives everyone (in the organization) a hope and a belief.

“(Branson) has sweat equity in our organization. I'm not a big fan of turnover.”

Branson is charged with improving offensive production. Last season in the National League, the Pirates ranked ninth in runs (634), 11th in batting average (.245) and were third in strikeouts (1,330) under Bell.

Advanced statistics were kinder to Jay Bell and the Pirates' offense. The club ranked 10th in baseball in on-base percentage plus slugging when adjusting for park factors. PNC Park was one of the most difficult hitting environments in baseball in 2013.

Next season will mark Branson's 13th year in the Pirates' organization. He served as the Indianapolis hitting coach from 2009-12 after managing at different levels of the minor league system from 2004-08. Branson, a former infielder, played nine seasons in the major leagues with the Reds (1992-97), Indians (1997-98) and Dodgers (2000-01).

Polanco leads prospects

Baseball America released its annual top-10 list of Pirates' prospects Monday. Five-tool outfielder Gregory Polanco was named the organization's No. 1 prospect.

Polanco, 22, rose from High-A ball to Triple-A in 2013. He hit .312 at Bradenton before being promoted to Double-A, where he showed excellent plate discipline with as many walks (36) as strikeouts. Across three levels, Polanco swiped 38 bases and hit 12 home runs and 30 doubles.

Polanco was followed on the list by four right-handed pitchers: No. 2 Jameson Taillon, No. 3 Tyler Glasnow, No. 5 Nick Kingham and No. 10 Luis Heredia.

Glasnow, selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, made the biggest leap; he was unranked last offseason. The 6-foot-7 pitcher throws in the mid-90s with a plus curveball. He allowed 54 hits and struck out 164 in 111 13 innings with Low-A West Virginia.

Austin Meadows (No. 4) and Reese McGuire (No. 8), first-round picks from June's draft, made the top 10 after impressive professional debuts. Shortstop Alen Hanson (No. 6) and outfielders Harold Ramirez (No. 9) and Josh Bell (No. 7) rounded out the list.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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