Beau Branton’s breakout season wasn’t supposed to happen.
First-team All-Pac-12 second baseman Duke Kinamon was slotted in to play second this year — until he went down with a groin injury in warmups minutes before the first pitch of the season. Even then, Jesse Kuet got the first crack at taking Kinamon’s place.
But not the last.
Eleven games into the season, Stanford head coach David Esquer gave Branton a start, and he went 2-for-4 with a run scored.
“I just told myself, ‘This is my last year [at Stanford], possibly my last year playing baseball. Just have fun with it. Try and ball out,’” Branton said about his mentality when Kinamon’s spot opened up. “And the rest is history.”
Branton did not just exceed expectations for his senior season — he shattered them. After riding the bench for the last two years, he laid claim to the leadoff spot in the lineup and set the table for one of the highest-scoring Stanford offenses in a decade.
Since getting his first start, Branton has never recorded back-to-back hitless games and has had hitting streaks of 10, seven and six (so far). In addition to claiming a .909 OPS (third-best among year-long starters), he leads the Cardinal offense with a .379 batting average, good for fourth in the Pac-12 and on pace for Stanford’s best mark since Jed Lowrie hit .399 in 2004.
Branton’s stellar season has also included some standout moments: his first career home run during the Utah series; his three-run, 5-for-6 outing in Stanford’s comeback win against then-No. 3 Oregon State; and his 7-for-12 series against Washington State.
“He’s been a lifesaver for us,” Esquer said. “Having him come in and perform like he has has been a huge shot in the arm for us. He’s a valuable piece, and without him, we’re probably not whole.”
“That guy never fails to impress,” first baseman Andrew Daschbach added. “Honestly, I’m just kind of sitting back in amazement. [He’s] been huge for us.”
After getting 28 starts as a freshman, mostly at third base, Branton appeared in 29 games with 32 plate appearances over the next two years combined, with Kinamon, Tommy Edman, Mikey Diekroeger and Nico Hoerner dominating the playing time in the infield.
Branton’s emergence wasn’t just a result of newfound opportunity: He says he’s adjusted the mechanics of his swing, too.
“I think I finally found something that works for me and keeps me balanced and keeps me short to the ball,” Branton said. “It’s really been a big mechanical difference.”
Though Branton intends to work as a industrial engineer for Disney after he graduates in a few weeks, his hitting and infield versatility will likely capture the attention of professional scouts as the draft approaches.
But even if Branton’s professional prospects don’t pan out, he’ll be able to end his college years having played the best baseball of his career and having propelled Stanford to its first conference title since 2004.
“It’s really meant a lot to me,” Branton said. “We haven’t had the greatest success [as a team] my first three years here, but now, I’m getting to compete for a national title, for a Pac-12 championship. That means a lot.
“I’ve always known I can compete at this level. I think proving it to myself and proving to everyone else that I can do it, that’s been a big thing for me as well.”
Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.