ST. PETERSBURG — Reid Brignac sees the opportunity in front of him. And the 23-year-old infielder is willing to do whatever it takes to seize it.
Since getting drafted in the second round in 2004, Brignac has gone from the Rays' top shortstop prospect to the subject of trade rumors. He has had a taste of the big leagues and had a mixed degree of struggles and success.
But as the Rays decide what to do with their second base/rightfield situation this spring, Brignac will certainly be in the mix to make his first Opening Day roster. He has made himself more versatile — and valuable — by learning to play second base, while improving his skills at shortstop and at the plate. But Brignac knows he's not a slam dunk, not with infielder Sean Rodriguez acquired from the Angels and not with the platoon in rightfield (or Ben Zobrist's position) yet established.
So Brignac is taking every chance to make his case, including now in Mexico, where he's playing winter ball, trying to improve defensively at second and refine his pitch selection at the plate.
"Legitimately, I've got an opportunity to make the team this year," Brignac said. "I knew in the past I was gaining experience and being around the guys. Now, hopefully, I'm going in competing for a job."
Brignac hit .278 over 31 games in three stints with the Rays last season. He showed flashes offensively, going 4-for-4 Sept. 14 against Baltimore (with his first big-league homer), and was better defensively (just two errors) than the previous year. "I just had to relax and play the game like I know how to play it," he said. "I was a little bit more confident than I was the first time around."
And Brignac made an impression on manager Joe Maddon, who said he's a "fearless player, which I love about him."
"I do feel like him fielding a ground ball as much as any American League infielder right now," Maddon said at the winter meetings. "The way he picks it up, he doesn't pat. … He just throws it accurately to the first baseman. Reid Brignac, technically as a shortstop, picking up a ground ball, does it as well as anybody, and then his hitting came along, and you're talking about a real high-end makeup guy."
Triple-A Durham manager Charlie Montoyo said a prime example of that was how Brignac willingly accepted work at second base last season, knowing it will improve his chances of making the big-league club. Brignac knows he has to improve his consistency at the plate, but he's more comfortable every day, and "If I play (second) every day, it'll be an easy transition."
Said Montoyo, "He could play either one — he's a big-league shortstop and a big-league second baseman."
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Baseball America's latest rankings of Rays prospects had OF Desmond Jennings No. 1, followed by RHP Jeremy Hellickson, RHP Wade Davis, LHP Matt Moore and Brignac. 2008 top pick SS Tim Beckham was No. 6. … According to ESPN's Jayson Stark, a proposed four-team trade at the winter meetings (a deal that fell through) included the Rays, Cubs, Mets and Angels, with Tampa Bay getting Milton Bradley and trading Pat Burrell to the Cubs. … Stark also ranked Burrell eighth on his list of top 10 "Least Valuable Players" of the decade, a group topped by Juan Gonzalez (Bradley was No. 7). … CF B.J. Upton will hold his second annual celebrity golf tournament Jan. 25, benefiting the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.