Brignac bringing cool confidence to bigs
After overcoming injury, infielder proving he's ready to play
ST. PETERSBURG -- Reid Brignac looked like the picture of calmness as he reclined in front of his new locker inside Tropicana Field last week. He hardly showed the signs of a rookie in the midst of his first extended visit into the Major Leagues' turbulent spotlight.
It's been a stay chock full of experiences the young infielder can cross off his checklist: first hit, first RBI, first double and, of course, first opportunity to prove he's recovered from a broken wrist that prematurely ended his season last year. It's also been his first chance to display his versatility as a projected piece of Tampa Bay's future infield.
And it's been a growing process, surely, as evidenced by the stolen-base attempt he made in the fifth inning of Tuesday night's game vs. Kansas City. He was pegged at second base by catcher Miguel Olivo by nearly a full step.
But he laughed it off in the clubhouse the next day as another lesson learned, another trick tried. If he was fazed by the mistake, he didn't show it, which is a common feature for Brignac, who has yet to show signs of sweating under professional baseball's bright lights.
The 23-year-old Brignac, freshly called up from Triple-A Durham as a multi-tooled stopgap measure to cushion the blow of injuries to shortstop Jason Bartlett and second basemen Akinori Iwamura, has just five hits in 10 games with the Rays this season entering Wednesday's game. But defensively, he's filled in for Bartlett nicely.
And so far, it's Brignac's unflappability that's made a quick impression on manager Joe Maddon.
"He's one of those guys who can picture himself in the Major Leagues for a long time," Maddon said Wednesday. "And I like that."
Maddon had noticed it last year, in Brignac's first week in Major League Baseball, when he was called up for four games in mid-July. He made his second career start at Yankee Stadium, in a tight, 2-1, ballgame. In the late innings, Maddon brought the infield in for a meeting on the mound.
"He was just very lucid, calm -- 'I got it,'" Maddon said. "That's what I kind of get from him. I think he's got the kind of makeup that plays well here."
Brignac had been second on the team at Triple-A Durham this season with a .291 batting average to go with 24 runs, 17 extra-base hits and a .356 on-base percentage in 36 games. But he'd already been making a name for himself in the Rays' organization.
A second-round pick (45th overall) in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, Brignac hit .321 with 24 home runs and 99 RBIs between Class A and Double-A Montgomery in 2006, and he was ranked as Tampa Bay's third-best prospect in '07.
"He showed that he was an actual baseball player," said outfielder Fernando Perez, who rose through the ranks of the Rays' organization with Brignac. "You don't know if you're always getting that with the high-round guys, they don't always put it together. He's just good, he did well. I think he did better than people expected him to that first year as an 18-year-old."
Last season, Brignac was an International League All-Star at Durham, with a league-leading 24 doubles and 38 RBIs. But on Aug. 6, he was hit on the wrist by a high, inside fastball by Jo-Jo Reyes.
At first, Brignac tried to shake it off, ignoring the pain shooting through his right arm and the numbness creeping in. He stayed in the game, but by the time he reached second base, he couldn't move his wrist.
"I was trying to just roll my hand over, and I couldn't," Brignac said. "I couldn't even move it. From there, we went to the doctor's office and got it X-rayed there. I saw the bone chip, and I had two mild fractures in my wrist."
It would take eight weeks to heal, ending his season and any hopes for a September callup -- the first major injury of Brignac's career, at the most inopportune time.
"I was a little bummed about that, anybody would be," Brignac said. "But I knew things would get better.
"A little adversity was thrown at me."
Now it's another injury that has enabled him to return to the pros, the ankle sprain of Bartlett on May 23 that forced him to the disabled list. Brignac was recalled to be the shortstop in the meantime, though his big league opportunity may not be as fleeting as last year. With Iwamura out for the season with a knee injury, Brignac has been taking practice at second base, too.
It's versatility that could come in handy for Brignac and the team, which has a roster full of flexible pieces that can play different spots. Until Bartlett returns, though, Brignac should be the regular at short. But it's clear already that he can make himself comfortable anywhere.
"I'm just here to help out, try to win games," Brignac said. "I'm glad I get to play short every day, it's what I've been doing every day for the last five years. I definitely feel comfortable there. I'm just blessed to be playing here."
Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.