Russ Branyan was drafted by the Indians in the seventh round in 1994, out of high school in Steubenville, Ohio. Sent to the Appalachian League, he hit .211/.317/.357 in 55 games, striking out 64 times. At this point, he would have rated as a Grade C prospect at best, with raw physicality but no actual production to that point.
Branyan played in 76 games for Columbus in the Sally League in '95, hitting .256/.328/.534, hitting 19 home runs. He also struck out 120 times in those 76 games (read that again), demonstrating both the superb power and the awful strikeout rate that would become his trademarks. I did not put him in the '96 book, but would have rated him as a Grade C prospect. The strikeout rate was just terrible, but his youth and power were still interesting.
Back at Columbus in '96, Branyan hit .268/.356/.575, with 40 homers, 106 RBI, 62 walks, and 166 strikeouts in 130 games. He continued belting home runs at an impressive rate. He still struck out too often, but he improved his walk rate enough to indicate some progress in controlling the strike zone. Although I described his strikeout rate as "obscene" in the '97 book, and also pointed out that his defense needed a lot of work, I still gave him a Grade B, thinking that he had made some real progress.
Branyan split '97 between Class A Kinston and Double-A Akron, hitting .290/.399/.663 with 27 homers in 83 games at the first stop, .23/.367/.526 with 12 homers in 41 games at the second. His profile did not change much: excellent power, tons of strikeouts, but once again an improved walk rate. I moved him up to Grade B+, rating him the number 31 prospect in the game.
Wrist injuries limited Branyan to just 43 games for Akron in '98, but he hit .294/.423/.693, once again boosting his walk rate. He earned another Grade B+, though I had some concern about his health and his defense, which had stalled out at "adequate."
Moving up to Triple-A for '99, Branyan hit the wall. He hit 30 homers in 109 games for Buffalo, but struck out 187 times while batting just .208. He was unable to handle Triple-A breaking balls and changeups. His MLE marked him as a sub-.200 hitter, albeit one who could hit 30 homers a season. His defense also deteriorated to some extent. I dropped his grade to C+.
Branyan split '00 between Triple-A and the Majors, and has spent the last four years looking for playing time in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee. He still has the game-breaking power, and still strikes out more than once a game. His problems with contact keep his batting average and OBP low.
As a player, he has developed into exactly the player projected by his minor league numbers: a dangerous, but containable, slugger. He is still young enough to surprise us sometime. . .it wouldn't surprise me if Branyan has some out-of-the-blue superstar season one of these years, some year when he hits .300 or something with tremendous power. He would then sign a big free agent contract and go back to hitting .220.
Comparable Players to Russ Branyan (based on Sim Score and PECOTA, no active players listed) through age 28