Loud, proud prep career for Brannon

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.”

They’re watching

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.”

Pro prospect Brooks Brannon was a mainstay behind the plate as Randleman’s catcher.                         (PJ WARD-BROWN / RANDOLPH RECORD)

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.”

Power production

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.”

Perhaps the best is still to come.

By Bob Sutton