Big power. Lots of strikeouts. Bench player.
At age 33, on his eighth team, Branyan is finally getting the chance to shed that last label. The Mariners signed Branyan over the winter and gave him the first crack at being their everyday first baseman. So far he hasn't disappointed.
Branyan is hitting .305 with 10 homers and 20 RBI. His .988 OPS ranks seventh among big-league first basemen, just behind Adrian Gonzalez and just ahead of Carlos Pena and Mark Teixiera.
Pretty good company for a bench player.
"I've made some minor adjustments," Branyan told FanHouse, "but really it's just a matter of being given the opportunity to play every day."
It's an opportunity Branyan said he had never gotten in the majors. Not with the -- take a deep breath -- Indians, Brewers, Padres, Reds, Rays, Phillies, Cardinals or Brewers (again).
Apparently the book on Branyan was written before he got to the majors.
"As a minor-league player I played every day, but at the big-league level I've been given some opportunities, but never on a consistent basis," he said. "It's very tough finding a situation where they can have patience for you to blossom."
Big-league clubs probably looked at Branyan's strikeout numbers and doubted he could be a regular. He had whiffed at least 120 times in all four of his full minor-league seasons, including a Triple-A season with 187 punchouts in 395 at-bats. He did hit 30 homers three times in the minors, though, so he became a player who big-league teams sat on their bench, waiting to unleash him as a pinch-hitter against a righty, looking for a homer.
|Branyan's GP by Season|
"It makes for a long, frustrating year," Branyan said. "Tough to get anything going."
Branyan started 2008 with the Brewers' Triple-A affiliate in Nashville, where he hit .359 with 12 homers in 45 games. That earned him a promotion to the big leagues, albeit back to the Brewers' bench.
Last winter, Branyan was fed up with life as a big-league backup. He was on his way overseas.
"I had an offer from Japan, a good offer, it was tough to turn down," Branyan said. "It was a chance to go over there and play every day. At this point in my career, that's all I wanted."
Branyan then got a break. Jack Zduriencik was hired as the Mariners general manager. Zduriencik had worked in the Brewers front office while Branyan was there.
"Jack called and said he wanted to see what would happen if I got everyday at-bats," Branyan said.
Branyan has started 39 of the Mariners' 46 games at first base. He is hitting .292 against lefties, better than his career .204 average coming into the season. He's even cut down on his strikeout percentage, from 34 percent to 27 percent.
"He's hitting pitches he didn't used to hit," said a scout. "I'm not sure how to define that. I just know he's got a ton of power. His bat has been real quick to the ball."
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said that hitting coach Alan Cockrell has helped Branyan with some minor tweaks to his swing.
"He's made great adjustments this year," Wakamatsu said. "If he can continue to do this, he'll be the first baseman for a while."
Satisfied as Branyan is that he may finally have proved that he was worthy of regular playing time, he can't help but think what his career might have been like if it hadn't taken him 10 years to get this shot.
"You always wonder what would have happened if I'd have gotten a chance to play every day, just for two or three weeks to see what happened," he said. "But I was never given that, so those questions will never be answered."