Kenny van den Branden is a right handed pitcher from Belgium, who is playing in the Dutch Hoofdklasse for the Rotterdam based Curacao Neptunus. Kenny is also playing for the national team of Belgium.
Kenny played for the Borgerhout Squirrels (current Belgian champion) and for his hometown Hoboken Pioneers (Belgian champs in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012). With the Pioneers Kenny played a couple of European Cup tournaments in the A group (with the big guys). In one of those tournaments Kenny showed a glimpse of what he is capable of. In the 2012 European Cup qualifying round in San Marino he pitched a complete game for the Hoboken Pioneers vs the Paderborn Untouchables. In eight innings he gave up three runs (two earned) on seven hits and struck out seven. Thanks to lacking run support he got the loss, but he sure pitched a good game.
Thanks to UVV coach and Belgian international Kevin Knollenburg and Belgian international Dennis de Quint, Kenny moved from Belgium to Utrecht to play for UVV in the Dutch Hoofdklasse in 2014. In his first year in the Dutch competition, Kenny posted the 13th best ERA in the Dutch Hoofdklasse (2.70) behind big names like Orlando Yntema, Rob Cordemans, Diegomar Markwell, Kevin Heijstek to name a few and that for a team that finished the regular season outside the top four. He kept his opponents to a batting average of .220. Right handed batters hit even worse against him with a BA of .180. The only kind of batters that feasted when he was on the mound were lead off hitters as they hit .315 against him.
Apparently he made such a good impression that Neptunus (in the person of Belgian international Benjamin Dille) convinced him to join their ranks after only one season with UVV.
You may call it big city arrogance, as I normally only follow L&D Amsterdam and Curacao Neptunus, but my first thought was “why on earth did they get him?” Sure Neptunus needed a pitcher to fill the void that was created by Misja Harcksen who had left to the USA, but Kenny’s stats were never noticed by me.
But during the 2015 season I started to realize why Neptunus had acquired Van den Branden. Especially during the Qualifiers Final of the European Cup tournament in Rotterdam. Against Czech champion Draci Brno, Van den Branden entered the game in relief after Diegomar Markwell left the game trailing 2-1 in the sixth inning, while walking two and fanning four. Kenny pitched the remaining three innings and gave up only one run and struck out three.
The second eye opener for me was game three of the European Cup championship series vs Fortitudo Bologna. With the series tied at one, Kenny started the game for Neptunus shortly after he recovered from a shoulder injury. Kenny only gave up a run in the third inning. For the rest of the game he kept the Italians in check rather well as he gave up only four hits, walked one and struck out one. Despite the fact that he was pulled after the sixth inning, I dare to say that thanks to his performance, Neptunus won the third game and thus the European Cup. But of course I have to say that the offense helped quite a lot to give him the needed run support.
Totally convinced now, I saw his stats of yesterday’s game vs Kinheim. Of course it was a slugfest for the Neptunus offense, but Kenny cruised through the necessary five innings for the win. In those five innings he gave up six hits, walked one and struck out three. But the fact that he pitched a five inning shutout against one of the top teams in the Netherlands was rather impressive.
So far this season he has a 1.26 ERA, only second in the Hoofdklasse behind Rob Cordemans.
In 13 games he has a 8-1 record. His K/BB ratio is 2.95 and Kenny tops the Hoofdklasse pitchers with the lowest opposing batting average (.160)
Perhaps it is a bold statement, but with Diegomar Markwell at the wrong side of thirty (with all due respect), I think that Kenny could be the future ace of Curacao Neptunus.