BRISTOL, Va. – It is neither uncommon nor surprising that most minor league coaching staffs include one or more former major leaguers, ranging from a cup of coffee to a long illustrious career. Former players stay in the business: as scouts, agents, and coaches. However, it’s pretty rare to find a two-time all-star coaching young pitchers in the short-season rookie leagues. That’s exactly what the Bristol Pirates have in former Pirates star closer Joel Hanrahan.
Hanrahan began his seven-year major league tour as a starter in Washington in 2004, converting to the bullpen full-time the next season. He was traded to the Pirates in 2009 as part of a trade that also brought Lastings Milledge, and sent our Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett. He settled in with Pittsburgh after the trade, when he was among the most dominant relievers in the game. He was then traded to the Red Sox in a deal that brought back Mark Melancon, before running into arm trouble and ending his career early. His experience is not lost on Bristol’s pitchers.
“He’s an awesome guy; he’s really wise with the things he has to say. He’s been through it all, from a starter and reliever’s point of view,” said starter Travis MacGregor.
One thing that impressed me about Coach Hanrahan, aided by the organization’s pitching approach, is the range of developmental goals he’s working on with individual pitchers. For starter Domingo Robles, it’s tightening up his curveball. With Hunter Stratton, it’s changeup development. Braeden Ogle, a five-day routine with daily throwing. And as MacGregor describes, in addition to work on his secondary pitches and fastball command, he seeks situational guidance from his pitching coach.
“[Hanrahan] knows what he’s talking about. I know during the game a lot of times, I’ll have an at-bat where something will happen and he’ll say, ‘Hey, from what I’ve learned, when a guy does this, the next best thing to do is this,’” noted MacGregor.
Robles is also doing all he can to glean from Hanrahan’s experience as a major league pitcher. As manager Miguel Perez observed, “I see [Robles] with Joel the day before he pitches, and he’s right there. You can hear him asking questions and listening, ‘So, 0-2, what do you throw here?’”
But if anything stands out about Hanrahan when you talk to him or his pitchers or his manager, is his focus on developing each pitcher to maximize his future success.
“We’re not developing you to be an Appalachian League all-star. We’re trying to get you moving up the ladder,” Hanrahan said. He added, “We keep them motivated and we let them know they are doing good things. If you do a lot of the right things, the performance is going to come.”
At the end of the day, the most important task of a minor league pitching coach is to move his guys up to the next level. To do that, the coach must create relationships with diverse players to help them buy-in. Here, Hanrahan shines.
“He’s so humble, and that’s good for the guys. He’s a great connector. He can connect with the guys. He’s the best thing that could have happened to those guys,” concluded Perez.