12-15-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
I guess Joel Hanrahan technically didn’t leave without saying goodbye, but to claim this wasn’t unexpected and abrupt would be completely underselling the fact that all of us as Pirates Fans found out about him stepping down as the Pitching Coach of the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians through a tweet.
Hired under Neal Huntington back in 2017, Hanrahan began his Minor League Coaching Career as the Pitching Coach of the Advanced Rookie Level Bristol Pirates. At the time I can remember an almost immediate rush of excitement from Pirates Fans-myself included- as they saw “The Hammer” back in Pirates Organization. I mean how could you not be?
For three years and change, during the teams eventually resurgence to relevancy at the turn of the last decade, Hanrahan electrified the crowds at PNC Park on a regular basis; piling up 82 saves and earning back-to-back All Star honors in 2011 and 2012,
Following his time in Bristol, Hanrahan would receive a promotion from the management team each and every year-outside of the 2020 Season when he coached at the Alternate Site in Altoona, which could at least be perceived as a nod of approval-ultimately ending up in the position he resigned from; one step away from the Majors.
Seen by many as the heir apparent if and/or when Oscar Marin fell out favor, it was his mix of old school toughness and adaptation to new school methods that had the Big League Club calling his number this past season to “fix” the demoted Mitch Keller. In the end this experiment is probably perceived as less than successful; however, one could argue that Keller had his most successful month of the season in September-with his less than ideal 4.71 ERA. Nonetheless, for me it was all about the trust they apparently had in Hanrahan more than anything else; not that it means much anymore.
With the departure of Hanrahan, and the recent firing-formerly deciding not to renew his contract-of Triple-A Manager Brian Esposito, the lone man standing in Indianapolis is the Pirates so-called hitting guru Jon Nunnally; a man that I am kind of surprised didn’t get the promotion when Rick Eckstein was let go near the end of last season.
Now, as far as Hanrahan is concerned it appears as if he is moving on-a decision that was made a week or so ago-to potentially greener pastures; which was a question I had during my immediate reaction upon hearing the news.
So, where do the Pirates and Ben Cherington-along with the Director of Coaching and Player Development, John Baker-turn now? Gone is the hard-nosed coach-who was reportedly liked by players, fellow coaches and management alike-with yet another hole left in the highest level of the Minors.
If I am being totally honest about, I’m not really sure. This isn’t a position I’ve even considered the Pirates having to replace. Yet, when Hanrahan’s goal seemed to be a MLB job and the Pirates only offer was a multi-year MiLB position, the writing was probably on the wall.
At the moment, my gut instinct is to simply promote Drew Benes from Altoona to Indianapolis for the sake of continuity when it comes to pitchers like Roansy Contreras and Omar Cruz. Also, he’s been with the organization for five years, has a family pedigree-his father is former Major Leaguer Andy Benes-and least importantly he conveniently lives in Bradenton. Although, if anyone is wondering, the Curve had the third worst ERA (4.67) and the fourth worst WHIP (1.357) in the Double-A Northeast.
Just something to think about; there’s plenty of time before the first pitch is thrown at Victory Field.
And, for those that are curious, I don’t believe Joel Hanrahan is irreplaceable; but I also think that Minor League Coaches and Managers are more important than some of you may be willing to admit.
I’ll just leave it at that in the meantime; and wish “The Hammer” good luck, wherever he goes.