Reid Brignac's much-improved approach at the plate has received plenty of attention since spring training. And deservedly so as Brignac ranks among the top American League rookies in RBIs (11) and is hitting .357 with runners in scoring position.
But what has impressed the Rays just as much — if not more — is how well Brignac, 24, is playing defensively at second base. Drafted as a shortstop, Brignac has worked since 2009's spring training to get comfortable at second with the thought it would make him more versatile (and valuable).
Brignac, who made his first opening day roster this season, has started at second in seven of the past eight games. And Tampa Bay is 8-1 when he has played there.
"Once you get comfortable, you play with confidence, and he has that," said third-base coach Tom Foley, who works with the infielders. "He reads the balls off the bat better. And he's taking it into the game."
It wasn't a seamless transition.
Manager Joe Maddon said there was a time last season when he was concerned about Brignac's second-base skills. There were balls hit to his right he didn't react well to.
"He had kind of late jumps, bad reads," Foley said. "Nowadays, he's solid on his legs, can go either way. He's done really well."
Said Maddon: "He's the kind of guy that you present a challenge to and he's going to figure out a way somehow to overcome those things. I'm really impressed with how this has worked out for him because I love him as a shortstop. Now he's turning into a really good second baseman, too."
Foley said it's a credit to Brignac putting the work in and earning their trust. In the spring, he earned his way into the rightfield/second-base rotation, which was also set to include Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez. Brignac didn't know how much he'd play, but he has started more games at second than Zobrist (who has seven).
"It isn't like I'm out of my element," Brignac said. "It was an adjustment at first, but that adjustment was taken care of in spring training. The ball off the bat from left-handers is routine now. I'm a lot more confident out there. Turning double plays is not an issue. It's such a shorter throw (than shortstop), all I have to be really concerned about is catching the ball, and it's a little flip to first."
Foley acknowledged Brignac's success offensively has helped him acclimate to the big leagues. Brignac refined his approach in winter ball and has found himself taking more pitches and feeling better hitting with two strikes than he ever has. He said the go-ahead bases-loaded walk he took last week against the Blue Jays probably wouldn't have happened in previous seasons.
"I'm starting to feel more and more comfortable," Brignac said. "Now it's to the point where it's, 'I'm ready.' I'm ready to play every day or (whenever) I get my opportunity."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.