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May 18, 2006
Feature: Reid Brignac
Because the Devil Rays have finished consistently near the bottom of the standings, they've consistently gotten high draft picks. For teams in that position, the first-round pick grabs nearly all of attention. Take the 2003 draft when the Devil Rays took the highly-touted Delmon Young with the first overall pick. With their next two selections, they took a pair of high school lefthanders from Florida. Second-round pick James Houser looks like a possible future starter, while unsigned third-rounder Andrew Miller is the top talent in this year's draft. In 2004, the team took Rice righthander Jeff Niemann with the fourth overall pick, but they've gotten far more production out of their next two picks. Third-round righthander Wade Davis has true star potential, while shortstop Reid Brignac is beginning to find his own share of the spotlight.
A second-round pick that year out of St. Amant High School in Louisiana, Brignac almost went the Andrew Miller route and attended college. "Growing up near Baton Rouge and watching Louisiana State every year, playing baseball for them is a dream when you are growing up," said Brignac. "It was a tough decision for me. I know I made the right one, but it was definitely hard."
Once he signed, Brignac hit .361/.413/.474 in his pro debut for Princeton in the Appalachian League, but he didn't really open eyes until his 2005 full-season debut at Low Class A Southwest Michigan. Despite being the youngest player on the team, Brignac led the team in home runs, with 15. This year he's once again the youngest player on his team (he turned 20 in January), only this time with High Class A Visalia. So far, Brignac has raised his game again. Scouts rave about his bat speed and power potential, and his .349/.396/.577 mark entering Thursday night's game is more than just a product of him moving to the California League. He is among the circuit's top five in slugging, OPS, runs, hits, home runs, RBI and total bases. It's officially the start of a breakout.
While Brignac gives credit to a number of coaches within the Tampa Bay system for his early success, he gives primary credit to an unexpected name--Phillies outfielder David Dellucci. "He's from Baton Rouge, not far from where I grew up," said Brignac before Wednesday night's game against Modesto. "I've learned a lot from him."
Despite Brignac's success last year, it wasn't a perfect season by any means, and despite his youth, Brignac's ability to recognize one of the flaws in his game shows impressive maturity and a solid understanding of what it takes to win games. "I struck out over 130 times last year, and that's too much, especially when I was usually batting number two in the order," reflected Brignac. "I need to cut those, and I need to get on base more."
And who better to provide Brignac with an improved hitting approach than Dellucci, who drew 123 walks in just 766 at-bats over the past two years. "Cutting my strikeouts was the main goal," said Brignac. "and that led to swinging at much better pitches, so my hitting has improved, too."
A look at the numbers shows that Brignac has made significant progress in this regard.
YEAR AB K AB/K 2005 512 131 3.9 2006 149 24 6.2
Not that Brignac doesn't have a lot of work to do, as is the case with any player still in A-ball. To begin with, he needs to improve his platoon splits, as over the past two years he's batting just .243 against southpaws with two home runs in 136 at-bats. "Lefty-on-lefty is a tough battle every time," said Brignac, who isn't concerned about his lack of power against southpaws at this time. "I'm just trying to get my average up. I'm looking to keep my shoulder level and hit balls the other way more than pulling anything."
In addition, Brignac's defense is still a work in progress. While he is playing on a notoriously difficult infield at Visalia, Brignac's 14 errors nonetheless lead the California League, so far confirming the opinion of scouts who believe that he'll eventually need to move to third base or a corner outfield slot. Originally a center fielder in high school who converted to shortstop late in his prep career, the 6-foot-3, 180 pound Brignac is a good athlete, but lacks the range and first-step quickness generally associated with players in the middle of the diamond. Still, Brignac enjoys playing the position and has confidence in his abilities there. "I'll go wherever they [the Devil Rays] tell me to go," said Brignac. "But lately I've been playing pretty good D. I'd rather play shortstop. I believe I can play shortstop."
No matter where he ends up, his bat should play, and while Brignac seems excited at the fact that the next level in the Devil Rays system is with Double-A Montgomery--much closer to his hometown than his first three stops--he insists that it's far too early to get ahead of himself. "I'd love to put up good enough numbers to go to Montgomery," said Brignac. "But right now I'm treating everything like I'll be in California all year. I've liked the travel as a pro--I like seeing new places--I've liked everything about it."
"OK, not the cold last year in Michigan."