In 2013 and beyond, the Royals are set at shortstop. Alcides Escobar is going to be the full-time starter there for years to come. This much is obvious. If he maintains or improves on his successful offensive 2012, he’ll be extremely valuable.
The second base situation is murky. Chris Getz has the job unless Johnny Giavotella overtakes him by hitting in spring training. Miguel Tejada is a longshot but can’t be discounted and there’s always Christian Colon lurking. Tejada is likely to stick around as a utility player if he does anything productive in spring training, but his age and recent futility could cause him to miss the cut. But let’s just assume that either Getz or Giavotella will be the second baseman.
What the Royals feel they need is a utility player, and preferably one who can play shortstop. Tejada used to fit that bill (we’ll see if he does later or not), but while the Royals are looking, they have two more options to keep in mind.
Mar 5, 2012; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Reid Brignac (15) comes off the field against the Baltimore Orioles during the game at Charlotte Sports Park. The Orioles defeated the Rays 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
After signing Kyle Farnsworth, Luke Scott and Kelly Johnson, the Tampa Bay Rays had to make room on their 40 man roster and did so by designating former prospect Reid Brignac for assignment. Elliot Johnson was also DFA’d.
Brignac is a bigger and more recognizable name of the two. After being drafted in 2004, Brignac was consistently ranked in the top 10 among Rays prospects (by Baseball America):
- 2005: #5
- 2006: #4
- 2007: #3
- 2008: #5
- 2009: #4
- 2010: #5
Brignac drew rave reviews for his defense but he was touted as a hitter with a great approach and the potential for power. In 2006, he hit 21 homers for High A Visalia and finished the year in Double A. He leveled off a bit in 2007 but was still highly regarded (and entered the year as BA’s #17 overall prospect). He finally debuted in the big leagues in 2008, but only got into four games but was still gaining praise for his bat speed, foot speed and defense at a premium position.
He was blocked by Jason Bartlett at the big league level and by then Tim Beckham had been drafted first overall, so Brignac was stuck but still made it into 31 games in 2009 and finally got more playing time between second base and shortstop in 2010, appearing in 113 games and spending the whole season in the big leagues. In 2011, he found his way into 91 games but ended up back in Triple A in July before returning two weeks later. Defensive metrics like his range, but he has struggled with balls hit right at him, but generally, the scouting and stats agree that he’s a good defensive middle infielder.
So great, let’s go get him, right?
In 2012, Brignac made 22 plate appearances for Tampa Bay. He got on base three times. Most of his season was spent in Triple A Durham where he hit .231/.323/.353. The Rays have until February 15 to waive him, trade him or release him. He shouldn’t be difficult to acquire, likely for cash if he isn’t a true waiver claim. The Rays now have Yunel Escobar at shortstop and still have Sean Rodriguez to spell Kelly Johnson.
|162 Game Avg.||162||453||44||96||16||2||6||42||5||4||22||108||.227||.268||.317||.586||63|
Brignac isn’t eligible for arbitration yet, but he is out of options. He’s cost-effective but difficult to manage on a roster. The potential could still be there and if he’s just playing a utility role (and as a defensive replacement at second), Brignac could be a solid pickup.
Except for that hitting. Those aren’t quite Tony Pena Jr numbers but they’re pretty close. His 2009 and 2010 seasons are fine enough to be a backup, so that’d be the gamble – that his last two seasons have been the anomalies and that he can hang in that near-average range of production. For a backup spot, that’s not too bad. It might cost dropping Juan Gutierrez or Guillermo Moscoso from the 40 man roster, but it’s worth going for if the Royals think Brignac can tap into the potential that scouts always saw. He’s already 27 years old though, and the likelihood that he can be a regular is dwindling quickly.
Elliot Johnson is another option, though the upside isn’t there like it might be with Brignac. He’ll turn 29 years old in a month and was an undrafted free agent signing by Tampa. He’s shown pretty decent power for a middle infield sub in his minor league days. Is he a likely target? Not really. The Royals already have Irving Falu available if they need him, though they don’t necessarily feel comfortable with him as a regular if someone got hurt and he’s at least done something with the bat in the big leagues, even if it’s in limited time.
So Johnson is very unlikely and Brignac is a shaky maybe as far as drawing interest from the Royals. Reports are that Tejada’s bat speed is looking good and he recently broke the record for RBIs in the Caribbean Series. For utility players, he’s the favorite.
For a low-risk gamble, though, Brignac is worth looking at in March, and if he doesn’t turn out to be anything, then there’s little harm done. The Royals have resurrected players in the past (Melky Cabrera, Luis Mendoza, Wilson Betemit, Bruce Chen) and gotten at least serviceable production out of them. Maybe Brignac fits that mold.