By Contributing Writer: Nick Stevens
We all have that dream as little kids in our parents’ backyard as we crush a wiffle ball over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, of running the base paths and scoring the game winning run for our favorite baseball team. Very few ever get to live out that dream, but 2016 4th round draft pick Brenan Hanifee is an exception.
Photo: Baby Birdland
Growing up in Rockingham County, VA, Hanifee is the son of a baseball coach, Sean Hanifee, assistant coach for Bridgewater College baseball. His father is also a lifelong Orioles fan, even sporting an Orioles tattoo. Originally committed to play for East Carolina University this season, Hanifee experienced an emotional roller coaster last June on his path to the Orioles.
Brenan was a pitcher and shortstop for the Turner Ashby Knights, a baseball powerhouse in Rockingham County, VA. His senior year saw him put up a 7-0 record with a 0.78 ERA, issue just four walks, and record 74 strikeouts in only nine appearances and 54 total innings pitched. Hanifee would save his best performance for last when he went all seven innings, allowed just one hit while walking none and striking out 10 in a 7-0 shutout in the VHSL 3A state tournament. In his high school career, Hanifee has a stat line that reads: 11-0, 0.63 ERA, 96 strikeouts, and eight walks in 78.1 innings pitched.
Unfortunately for Hanifee, the Knights would fall in the 3A state-semifinals last June, ending his high school baseball career too soon just days before his high school graduation. The bus ride home was unlike any other, though, as Hanifee, along with his coaches and teammates, watched as the Baltimore Orioles selected him in the 2016 MLB draft. As the 121st overall pick, Hanifee became the first high schooler taken by the O’s, earning a $500,000 signing bonus (about $20,000 above the slotted bonus).
Listed at 6’4” and 180 pounds, Hanifee has an arm with very little mileage on it compared to other prospects his age. Most thought football was Hanifee’s calling (shattering Turner Ashby HS receiving records during his career) so the prospect camps, extensive summer leagues and pre-draft workouts were mostly avoided by Brenan. The scouts still found him; however, specifically Rich Morales of the Orioles.
Hanifee is still in the early developmental stages of pitching, but a fastball that reaches 95 mph, a changeup, and a work in progress slider are now a part of his repertoire. Having watched him pitch at the high school level and in summer leagues for the Clover Hill Bucks of the Rockingham County Baseball League, I can say that he has the confidence that will take him far. Pitching against cross-town rival Harrisonburg HS in front of approximately 20 scouts, Hanifee gave up a first pitch solo HR only to proceed to strike out the next 6 batters. Impressive for a then 17-year old.
He is a long-term project for the Orioles, but during the draft coverage last season, MLB.com projected Hanifee as a future major league starting pitcher. Over the winter, Brenan has been training with Mike Martin at Next Level Athletic Development in Harrisonburg, VA with fellow Shenandoah Valley prospect, Astros pitcher Austin Nicely who is with the Tri-River Valley Cats. The Orioles organization is hopeful that he can add some weight and fill out his 6’4 frame which will only increase his velocity and mound presence.
Coming out of high school, Baseball America had Hanifee ranked as the #181 prospect on their Top 500 and currently is on the Gulf Coast League Orioles roster. He did not see action last season with the team, but keep your eyes out for Brenan Hanifee this year. According to MLB.com scouting, the righty has a 50 rating for his fastball and slider and an overall rating of 45.
I don’t take a lot of stock into these ratings personally because they do not measure heart and dedication. Hopefully, with the number of good, young arms in the Orioles system, Hanifee can slowly work his way up the ladder. He is a lifelong Orioles fan just like all of us and an intriguing prospect.