Confident Reid Brignac ready to take over as Tampa Bay Rays' everyday shortstop

PORT CHARLOTTE — Reid Brignac is ready.

He is sure, and all the Rays around him are, too, that after six years as a prospect and 2010 as an apprentice he can handle taking over as their primary shortstop. "This is my year to prove that I can do this every day," he said. "I believe this is what I'm supposed to do."

He is 25, as Louisiana as they come and one of the most important replacements the Rays are depending on.

Reid Brignac is some other things, too.

He is extremely self-confident, which his father, Phillip, said has always been the case, and his bosses applaud and he says he has to be.

"If you don't believe in yourself, who else is going to believe in you?" he said.

But it's so much that, even his friends acknowledge, it could come across as almost too much.

"He carries himself a little higher than most want or expect, but by far he's not only a great player but an unbelievable friend," teammate Sean Rodriguez said. "He's unique because with that much confidence you'd think it would be tough to want to talk to him, but it's not at all. It's the complete opposite. He's real humble with everyone. He's harmless."

He dated a Playboy Playmate, Lauren Anderson (Miss July 2002, and be careful on Google) for a year and a half but is single now, preferring to concentrate on baseball.

He is as fearless as most 25-year-old pro athletes are, but he won't swim in the ocean or the gulf for fear of sharks (though he loves to fish) and isn't much for snakes and spiders.

He throws, writes and hits a golf ball right-handed but swings left-handed (after giving up switch-hitting at 13) and eats both ways — and often when it's Cajun food.

He has a soft side, something of a southern gentleman in cleats. When he got his first tattoo this offseason, it was his maternal grandparents' names (Naomi and J.E. Caskey) and the date they were killed in a car accident (June 2, 1989), in script on the left side of his chest, over his heart.

"Some guys go get a random … tattoo; I'm not that type of person," he said. "I'm not going to put something on my body for the rest of my life if it didn't significantly mean something to me. They were close to me, and my mom still gets extremely upset around holidays because her parents aren't around, so it's kind of for her, too."

He is usually in the middle of it when there are players gathered in the clubhouse, and you can usually hear him, laughing, talking or trying to rap.

"He's Cajun to the bone, so I guess he don't meet too many strangers," his father said. "That's just the way we are. We're pretty social people."

He hangs out with the black players on the team so often that, B.J. Upton said, they jokingly call him White Chocolate and the Light-Skinned Brother.

He was always the little kid playing with the big ones, starting T-ball at 3 against those rough-and-tumble 5-year-olds, through high school where he was the younger brother hanging out with Ryan, who was 3 years older, and his friends, a competitive cuss the whole time. "You can't be the young guy and be tentative or scared to make a mistake," he said. "I learned that at a young age."

He has gotten a lot better as he rose through the minors, especially defense that was so rough Rays officials started asking if he should be moved from shortstop. But with hard work, and lots of help from Rays coaches at every level, he made what executive vice president Andrew Friedman termed "staggering" improvement to above-average overall, with hands manager Joe Maddon says are as good as anyone in the league.

And though his offense still needs some improvement, specifically in plate discipline, the adjustments he has made in his swing already, Maddon said, "are incredible."

He was headed to LSU on a scholarship out of St. Amant High School — where he also played football (wide receiver) and hoops (point guard), earned academic honors with a 3.5 GPA and was named Mr. St. Amant as a senior — but would sign if he were drafted in the first or second round, which he was by the Rays, 45th overall.

He has shown the kind of poise and leadership the Rays value and, Friedman said, a drive to be great with makeup and competitive desire for success that are "off the charts."

He has been a winner, as nine of the 11 pro teams he has been on have gone to the playoffs, and he has had only one losing season.

He is ready.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Confident Reid Brignac ready to take over as Tampa Bay Rays' everyday shortstop 02/26/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 26, 2011 10:27pm]

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