Brooks Brannon’s rise to Class A baseball came with a bang.
The 2022 draftee of the Boston Red Sox out of Randleman homered in two of his first three games and three of his first five games with Salem Red Sox of the Carolina League.
Brannon, 19, played his first game in the Carolina League on June 29 when Salem played at Fredericksburg. From there, he had a hit in all five games with Salem heading to this week’s break in the schedule. He blasted home runs at Fredericksburg and two at Lynchburg and had nine runs batted in through five games.
Brannon, a catcher, played for Boston’s Florida Complex League team earlier this summer. He homered three times in 11 games this year after last year’s five homers in 15 games with the team.
There’s about two months left on Salem’s schedule. Brannon could make his home debut in a three-game series Friday through Sunday vs. Delmarva.
Salem’s only remaining 2023 games in North Carolina come next week against the Down East Wood Ducks in Kinston. The Red Sox, who play in the North Division, previously played a road series against the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon, while the team doesn’t have 2023 games against Kannapolis and its home series vs. Fayetteville came in early May.
Brannon had a record-setting career in playing key roles in Randleman’s 2021 and 2022 Class 2-A state championships.
Brooks Brannon, shown here with Randleman during the Class 2-A state playoffs in May, has had a strong start to his professional career. (File photo)
Ex-Randleman star then triples twice in second game
Former Randleman catcher Brooks Brannon’s second professional plate appearance resulted in a two-run single Saturday in the Florida Complex League at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla.
“It was amazing,” Brannon said of the feeling in a text to Randolph Record.
Brannon, who was a ninth-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox last month, went 1-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout in his debut for the Red Sox rookie club in a 16-10 loss to the Minnesota Twins minor-league club. He struck out on three pitches in his first at-bat against Ryan Horstman, a 30-year-old on a rehabilitation assignment with a pro career that began in 2013.
On Monday in his second game, Brannon was 3-for-4 with a two-run triple, another triple and scored three runs in a 14-2 victory against the Baltimore Orioles rookie club. That game was shortened to six innings because of wet grounds.
Brannon was part of back-to-back state championship teams for Randleman, concluding his high school career in June. He was a North Carolina signee, but opted to turn pro after the draft.
RANDLEMAN – The route for Randleman catcher Brooks Brannon in professional baseball is taking form after he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox last week.
Brannon said Monday, while he was traveling to Florida, that he plans to sign with the Red Sox this week in Fort Myers, Fla., where the organization has a training facility.
Two days after he was selected in the draft’s ninth round last week, Brannon was headed to Boston. He reportedly was in line to receive a signing bonus that was more in line with a second- or third-round draft selection.
“He’s going to be compensated nicely,” Randleman coach Jake Smith said. “They had to do some shuffling around and it all worked out. Both parties are happy.”
So with a professional career unfolding, Brannon won’t play collegiately for North Carolina. He was a signee with the Tar Heels.
Brannon turned 18 years old in May amid his record-setting senior season with Randleman. He was one of several core players on the Tigers’ back-to-back Class 2-A state championship teams.
Throughout the spring and leading up to the draft, the most active professional clubs in scouting Brannon appeared to be the Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins, Smith said. Most organizations had scouts stop by as well.
In many cases, it was more than regional scouts attending games, but other team officials finding their ways to Randleman. Many gathered behind the backstop, while others viewed from a distance atop the hill that circles Joe Brookshire Field.
“They spent some money coming to watch him,” the coach said.
Smith said Randleman’s appearance in a tournament in the Charleston, S.C., area during spring break also brought additional attention for the catcher, who had a good string of games that week.
Brannon was the only catcher drafted by the Red Sox among the team’s 21 picks in this month’s draft. Boston picked seven players out of high school.
The next step for Brannon will come in Fort Myers, where the Red Sox hold spring training and conduct rookie training. There’s the Florida Complex League (formerly Gulf Coast League) for young players, and that figures to be where Brannon will make his professional debut.
Games in the Florida Complex League are scheduled through Aug. 23.
“He’ll get his feet wet and be around a lot of people in the organization,” Smith said.
Boston’s minor-league affiliates are located in Salem, Va.; Greenville, S.C.; Portland, Maine; and Worcester, Mass.
“He’s going to have every opportunity to be successful,” Smith said. “He’s got a long road and a fun road ahead of him.”
Brooks Brannon had an award-winning high school career with Randleman. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)
RANDLEMAN – Catcher Brooks Brannon of Randleman was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the ninth round of baseball’s amateur draft Monday.
“It felt like a dream come true,” Brannon said Monday night. “Excited isn’t even the word. It was ecstasy.”
Brannon, 18, is enrolled at North Carolina, where he’ll play for the Tar Heels if he decides to pass on this pro opportunity.
Brannon was selected with the 279th pick overall during the second day of the three-day draft that concludes Tuesday. In that spot, the projected signing bonus is about $158,000, but he could be in line to sign for over slot because draft projections had him going in earlier rounds.
Brannon said he expects a decision about his next steps to be revealed this week, perhaps as early as Tuesday.
Pro scouts were regulars at Randleman games this season to watch Brannon. The Tigers posted a 33-1 record, winning the Class 2-A state championship for the second year in a row.
Brannon was the 20th catcher picked in the draft, and the first taken by the Red Sox. Only one other high school catcher was selected ahead of Brannon, with Lamar King Jr. out of Calvert Hall College High School in Maryland going in the fourth round to the San Diego Padres. King, a Georgia Tech signee, is a native of Canada.
Red Sox scout Spencer Brown had a good attendance rate at Randleman games.
“He was at so many games,” Brannon said. “Some of the scouts joked that he was there so much that he was going to get a locker (in the field house).”
Brannon watched the draft unfold on television from his Randleman home.
“There were definitely some anxious moments, for sure,” Brannon said. “God rewards people’s patience.”
Brannon’s draft status had been a curiosity for many of his now-former Randleman teammates.
“I feel like he’s going to get out there and do his thing and he’s going to work his butt to the majors,” said center fielder Braylen Hayes, a classmate. “That’s what I want to see.”
Randleman coach Jake Smith said Brannon did so much through his high school days that he’s in position to pick between two good choices.
“He has the hard part out of the way because he has a great opportunity at Carolina to go in and make an impact right away,” Smith said. “He’s in a win-win situation the way I look at it.”
Since Randleman won the state title in early June, Brannon stayed away from playing.
“Summer school at Carolina and then whatever happens after that,” he said following the championship series. “I’m just excited to get to Carolina.”
Brannon said his five weeks in Chapel Hill were worthwhile. He was limited to individual workouts, but he said he got better through those.
Brannon had gained scouts’ attention well before the record-setting 2022 season. His 20 home runs were the most in the nation among high school players this year, tying the single-season North Carolina record set by his father, Paul Brannon. He also set state records for a season with 91 runs batted in and 70 hits.
Brooks Brannon had a record-setting high school season with some incredible power-hitting numbers. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)
Randleman catcher awaits draft after season filled with thrills
RANDLEMAN — For all the noise Brooks Brannon can bring to a ballpark, it might be a level of calmness that helped him – and his teammates – most.
Yet there could be more commotion connected to his baseball career this weekend
when baseball’s amateur draft begins, and the Randleman catcher is bound to be among those selected.
Whether he goes from high school to the pros – or chooses a route playing college baseball for North Carolina – his high school career might be unmatched.
Reaching this next opportunity unfolded, in part, because of an approach that extended beyond allowing raw talent and energy to define him.
“The biggest thing I’ve done (last) offseason is trying to quiet my mind and just calm everything down a little bit, and it has been working this year, and I hope to keep doing it,” Brannon said. “It was hard because I’m 100 percent go all the time. It’s pretty hard to rein the horse back, if you know what I mean.
“So doing that was difficult, but I feel I’m getting a better grasp of it, and so that’s important. It’s not something anybody else can do for me; you have to do it yourself and learn it yourself.”
Those lessons translated into team and personal success. As Randleman was on its way to a second consecutive Class 2-A state championship, Brannon set single-season state records for hits (70) and runs batted in (91) and tied the mark for home runs (20) in 34 games.
Batting in the No. 3 spot in a lineup jammed with college prospects, Brannon became the focal point. In the field, he was behind the plate for a pitching staff that routinely dealt shutouts.
That was an ideal composition for coach Jake Smith.
“He’s a great leader. He’s an even-keeled guy,” Smith said. “He’s a mentally tough kid. He doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low. He understands the game well as far as knowing that failure is going to come. He understands that you can’t do anything about it. Just move on to the next at-bat.”
Brannon said he found the right mix.
“I guess I know when to ramp it up and when to draw it back a little bit,” he said. “Learning that was important. I try to be a leader for the guys and a leader for the team and hope I’m doing a good job. I think I’m doing a good job.”
In what became his final prep game, he went to the plate in Randleman’s 12-5 victory against Whiteville in the top of the seventh inning last month. He drove a ball to deep right-center field for a flyout at Burlington Athletic Stadium.
Then he trotted back to the dugout following his last high school at-bat, though he said he didn’t comprehend what was happening with the ensuing ovation, which seemed to be an acknowledgment of his record-setting season and stellar career.
A night earlier in Game 1 of the state finals, Brannon ripped a second-inning single to set the single-season state record for hits. Smith retrieved the ball.
“He deserves it,” the coach said. “It’s something special.”
With each accomplishment, his teammates seemed to take increasing joy.
“He’s the most humble guy I know,” second baseman Kaden Ethier said.
For pitcher Drake Purvis, who just finished his sophomore season and is committed to North Carolina State, Brannon provided a reassuring presence and ideal example.
“Brooks has always been like that,” Purvis said. “He wants to be the best. He’ll calm everything down.”
Brannon enrolled for summer classes last month at North Carolina as he awaits the draft. His prospects range somewhere within the first five rounds. So Smith’s message was to cherish those final months of the high school season.
“He needs to relax and enjoy it because probably after this, it’s a little different,” Smith said. “It turns into his job. I think he’ll get drafted high enough where he’s going to have to make a decision.”
By last October, in a showcase event in Jupiter, Fla., it was clear that Brannon had caught the attention of just about every major-league organization.
That resulted in a steady stream of scouts showing up at Randleman games this season.
“It’s a lot of pressure every time you go out there; there’s all of that,” said Paul Brannon, his father.
The younger Brannon knew the scouts had eyes fixed on him. He deflected that on game nights.
“It hasn’t affected me playing,” he said. “It hasn’t affected me mentally – and it shouldn’t. I’m just here to have fun. Here to have fun and play with my brothers one last time.”
His teammates appreciated how he’s unfazed.
“He doesn’t feel the pressure,” senior pitcher Ryan White said. “He’s calm, cool, collected. He does his job. He’s just out there to do what he can do to help the team win.”
Scouts usually gathered behind the backstop, often ending up down the first-base line for a vantage point on the right-handed batter. They’ve gone through this drill before, perhaps a few decades ago at Kings Mountain.
“A lot of scouts who scouted me in high school are scouting him,” Paul Brannon said.
Brooks Brannon kept doing his thing, no matter who was watching.
“To me, that’s the most impressive thing — you’ve got numerous scouts out here every night just watching him. He’s a 17-year-old kid out there,” Smith said earlier this spring. “That’s a lot of pressure. He doesn’t let it get to him. He enjoys it. I think he understands; he’s not playing for them. They’re here to watch him.”
At a certain point, amid the lineup of big-bashing Tigers, this all seemed normal to Brannon.
“Just trying to see it and hit it right now. Nothing too crazy,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay unconscious and keep hitting. I’m not really thinking about anything. I’m just seeing the ball and hitting the ball.”
There already was a Brannon in the state record books — Paul Brannon. He held the North Carolina single-season record for home runs with 20 in 1989 for Kings Mountain.
The specifics of the record pursuit weren’t discussed much.
“I call it chasing the ghost,” Paul Brannon said, “and I was the ghost.”
When the record-tying homer sailed over the fence in the opening game of the Class 2-A regional finals against visiting Community School of Davidson, it came with quite a response.
“(People) were talking about when it happened, he jumped out of his seat with both hands, and he ran down the steps,” the catcher said of his father. “I haven’t ever seen him run. Seeing him happy, it just made my night.”
While the home run standard is certainly a topic that’s connected to family, the RBI mark has a special place.
“The RBI record is a team record,” Brannon said. “So I think my guys who scored should have their name up there just as (much) as mine. Driving in runs is the name of the game. More runs equals more wins, so I think that record means more than the home run record.”
Brannon has a 220-pound frame, seemingly made for a catcher.
Regardless of hitting home runs at a rapid rate, Brannon refuses to make it complicated.
“I’m hitting it where they’re pitching it, I guess. I don’t know how else to describe it,” he said. “I’ve always had power. I was always really, really strong for my age. Just the refined approach, I don’t have to muscle up to hit the ball. If I just stay smooth and I stick to my approach, I’ll hit it. I figured that when I stay loose, I’ll hit it a lot farther than when I try to hit it far.”
So, where does this power stem from?
“My butt, my legs,” he said. “I feel like I’m a pretty big kid, and most of my weight is down there, and that’s where I generate most of my power. Hip rotation.”
Third baseman Hunter Atkins batted a spot in front of Brannon in Randleman’s order. He often was on base with the slugger at the plate.
“You’ve just got to be ready for it,” Atkins said. “You’ve got to keep your feet going because he hits the ball so hard. You’ve got to read the ball as hard as he hits it. Line shots, that’s what he does best. The way the ball jumps off the bat.”
Atkins also benefited from taking a slower pace around the bases after Brannon deposited balls over fences. He marvels at the source of the power.
“His legs, for sure. His legs and his hips,” Atkins said. “A big factor in baseball is your legs. If I’d have them legs, I’d love it. Definitely his legs, and his hands.”
When reference was made to an outdated roster listing him at 190 pounds, Brannon smiled.
“Maybe like freshman year,” he said. “Not now; I’m a little bit heavier now.”
Probably wiser, too.
It was no secret that Brannon had developed talents to put him on major-college scouting radars and eventually on pro scouts’ must-see lists. Then other parts fell into place.
“He has always had the skill set as far as physical ability, but he has learned a lot,” said Trey Cooper, a former Randleman teammate and now a Division I pitcher. “You can tell; now he has the IQ behind the plate.”
It was clear through the 2022 season that Brannon’s preferred topic was the Tigers and not individual accolades coming from all directions.
“It’s just a great way to cap off senior year,” he said. “I’m just happy that we won a state championship. I’m OK with the fact that I did what I needed to do to help my team win. Records or not, I did what I needed to do to help us win.”
That might be an understatement.
“He’s just special. He’s a special kid,” Smith said. “He deserves everything he gets because he works so hard, and he does the right things. I’m happy for him, excited for his future.”