ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays showed considerable faith in Reid Brignac at the start of last year, handing him his first starting job at shortstop.
They had reason to have confidence that, with Brignac's impressive defensive skills, he could take over for former team MVP Jason Bartlett, who was traded to the Padres.
And even after a disappointing season for Brignac, in which he hit .193 and was sent down to the minors mid-year, it appears Tampa Bay is willing to give him another shot to man shortstop. But he's going to have to earn it.
"He'll battle for the spot, absolutely," manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought he made some really good adjustments when he came back up. Defense has never been an issue. I love his defense. It's about making him more of a complete player offensively. I'm not just talking about getting hits, playing the situational game. Base running needs to be worked on a bit, too."
Maddon has raved about Brignac's hands at short, saying he's a good enough shortstop (defensively, speaking) to win a World Series with. But after posting the eighth-lowest average among players with 200 at-bats or more, including just five extra-base hits, Brignac, 25, lost his job and was optioned to Triple-A Durham.
Brignac, as confident as any Rays player, said he grew up a bit in his stint back in the minors, and was very appreciative when he got called back up Aug. 10. He got a start in the American League Division Series.
Though Maddon praised Brignac for how he handled everything, he wasn't ready to give him his everyday job back once he was recalled. Sean Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson got some starts there too against left-handers.
That could be an option again this year, or a veteran infielder could be brought in to compete in spring training (much like INF Felipe Lopez was signed to a minor-league deal last year to push for a bench role).
But it appears the ball will be in Brignac's court. And he'll need to bring his bat.
HOT STOVE: It comes as little surprise the Angels would express interest and interview Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman, like they did last week. And it is far from a shock Friedman would be their top choice for their open GM spot, as Foxsports.com reported. But it also seems like a stretch Friedman would leave the Rays for Anaheim; he hasn't spoken like a man looking to go anywhere. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted, quoting one source, "(Friedman's) not going."
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Among all the interesting revelations in the convoluted compensation package for Theo Epstein, the Red Sox initially wanted Cubs RHP (and ex-Ray) Matt Garza to be included as compensation for Epstein taking over Chicago's GM spot. … Rays 1B Casey Kotchman took a road trip last week with his father, long-time minor league manager and scout Tom Kotchman, and visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. "It was his idea," Casey told baseballhall.org. "He wanted to go and I just said okay. But I'm glad he did." … Among the Rays prospects in the Arizona Fall League this year are former top pick SS Tim Beckham and 2011 first-round pick OF Mikie Mahtook, both with the Surprise Saguaros. … Former Rays RHP Edwin Jackson is scheduled to start Game 4 tonight for the Cardinals against the Rangers. … RHP James Shields (Outstanding Pitcher), RHP Jeremy Hellickson (Outstanding Rookie) and Kotchman (Comeback Player) are finalists for Players Choice Awards, with winners announced Nov. 3.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org