PORT CHARLOTTE — With a trove of talented middle infield prospects, the Rays are willing to consider other ways to get some of their players closer to the majors on the field.
Which is why Vidal Brujan started in centerfield Wednesday.
Continuing an experiment begun last spring, the Rays want to see how Brujan’s skills, specifically his speed and strong arm, play in the outfield. If it works, he could join Arizona’s Ketel Marte on a short list of players who can handle three middle-of-the-diamond positions.
“He’s a pretty electric player, physically, with the speed, the arm, all those things,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We all know how much we value versatility. To have a guy that can come in and play centerfield, shortstop, second base, that’s pretty special. There aren’t many guys in baseball that can do that. The ones that do generally find themselves with a lot of opportunities presented.”
Because Brujan (pronounced brew-HAHN), 23, is on the 40-man roster, he would be among the first options for an injury call-up, so defensive versatility would definitely help.
Brujan played only in the infield during five minor-league seasons, splitting 2019 between Class A and Double-A and spending 2020 at the alternate site. But he got some time in the outfield during a 20-game stint in winter ball.
Brujan, through team interpreter Manny Navarro, said he is up for the challenge: “Hopefully I can be either the next (Kevin) Kiermaier, or even better.”
Brujan left Wednesday’s game after being hit on the foot by a pitch but is expected back in the lineup on Thursday.
Yoshi Tsutsugo’s first look at first base went well. He didn’t have anything too complicated to deal with or balls hit to him, but he was in the right place for five throws to the base and positioned well overall. “Yoshi looked totally comfortable at first,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He looked very natural over there.” Tustsugo has played mostly third base and leftfield but said he saw some time at first while playing in Japan and worked there this offseason. Though Ji-Man Choi is the primary left-handed hitting first baseman, the Rays want to see if Tsutsugo can provide depth.
Shane McClanahan dazzled in a 10-pitch first despite a leadoff single, hitting 101 mph on the stadium board, in the 3-1 six-inning win. …. Josh Fleming followed with an impressive 1-2-3 second. … The Rays (2-2) allowed only two hits overall, retiring 14 straight Pirates at one point in what Cash said was “our best-pitched game, just attacking the strike zone.” … Austin Meadows hit his second homer of the spring. … Kevin Padlo made a diving catch of a screaming liner in the sixth. … Even though the Rays were leading 3-1, they batted in the bottom of the sixth as the managers agreed to play six full innings.
• Cash said Rays officials were still sorting out the impact of the league decision, announced late Tuesday, to delay the start of the Triple-A season a month until early May and to reestablish alternate camp sites. Among the issues is where to send players who are being “sent down.” Spring training and the start of the season for lower-level minor-leaguers had already been pushed back a month.
• Choi, who went 0-for-1 with a walk as the DH in his spring debut Wednesday, is slated to play first on Thursday.
• The Rays on Saturday are slated to face ex-mate Charlie Morton, who will start for the Braves.