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Rays will find out soon what Vidal Brujan, Taylor Walls can and can’t do

With Brandon Lowe out at least a month, there is a void to be filled at second base and in the lineup.
Vidal Brujan has grown greatly since his early days, developing into a top prospect. But he has yet, in limited opportunities, to establish himself at the big-league level.
Vidal Brujan has grown greatly since his early days, developing into a top prospect. But he has yet, in limited opportunities, to establish himself at the big-league level. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 19|Updated May 19

ST. PETERSBURG — One of the guys the Rays will lean on heavily to replace injured slugging second baseman Brandon Lowe was hardly a prospect when they first got him, signed for a $15,000 bonus in 2014 and barely weighing 150 pounds.

The other is a hard-nosed, silky-smooth defender who admittedly is more comfortable at shortstop and closing in on nearly 100 games played in the majors but still struggling to hit his own weight.

The Rays say they are confident that Vidal Brujan, the once-skinny kid from the Dominican Republic who was called up from Triple-A, and Taylor Walls, the defensive whiz who was being used in a utility infield role, can fill the void.

It’s not like they have much choice.

The Rays don’t have — and to be fair, nor would most teams — someone on their bench or at Triple-A Durham capable of stepping in to play second smoothly and hit the 30-plus homers they expect from Lowe.

And with Lowe expected to be sidelined for only a month or so due to a stress reaction in his lower back, they are not going to invest prospects or money to trade for a proven replacement.

Instead, like many things the Rays do, expect them to patch things together and find a way to make it work — albeit with the pieces fitting a little differently.

Taylor Walls was a standout shortstop in the minors but was displaced in the majors by Wander Franco.
Taylor Walls was a standout shortstop in the minors but was displaced in the majors by Wander Franco. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

“The people that we’re talking about, I wouldn’t put pressure on them to go fulfill Brandon’s offensive role. That’s not fair for any young player. He’s a pretty special offensive player,” manager Kevin Cash said.

“But mixing and matching, trying to get the right matchup for these guys, I think they can do some special things. We’re not going to have the power of 35, 39, 40 home runs. But there could be some (more guys getting) on base, there could be an uptick in speed. There are things that we can do.”

Brujan, 24, is the wild card here.

He has grown greatly since his early days, developing into a top prospect. But he has yet, in limited opportunities, to establish himself at the big-league level. He has appealing tools — switch-hitting, blazing speed, strong arm and 350-plus games played at second base (along with the athleticism and versatility to play third, shortstop and all three outfield positions).

“We’ve talked about ‘Bru’ a lot. He’s come a long way,” Cash said. “When he got called up (last week after outfielder Manuel Margot was sidelined), the staff in Triple-A said that he has never been more ready for the opportunity. … His at-bats have been better. He’s played good defense for us.”

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Brujan, noting “second base is like my home,” is ready to help. “I definitely feel good,” he said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I feel a lot more confidence.”

Walls, 25, was a standout shortstop in the minors but was displaced in the majors by Wander Franco. Though the switch-hitter has gotten more time at third base, Walls said he is “a tad more” comfortable at second, and also eager for the increased opportunity.

“At second, I feel like I can use my athleticism a little more, see the ball enter the hitting zone a little more, anticipate a little more and kind of use my range to my advantage,” he said. “At third, I feel like it limits me. But as an athlete, I feel like I’m really good reacting-wise. So I feel like I have pros at both places.”

If Vidal Brujan and/or Taylor Walls falter, the Rays could sacrifice defense and try Isaac Paredes at second base.
If Vidal Brujan and/or Taylor Walls falter, the Rays could sacrifice defense and try Isaac Paredes at second base. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Plus, as Franco said, there will be some disruption defensively. “With ‘B. Lowe’ being there, we’ve gotten used to each other, so it’s going to be different,” he said via Navarro. “But you’ve got to adapt when they have a different guy over there.”

Getting enough offense seems to be the bigger question for the Rays.

If Brujan and/or Walls falter, they could sacrifice defense and try Isaac Paredes (who is admittedly more comfortable at third) or call up Jonathan Aranda, who is hitting .340 with a .925 OPS at Durham. (Another option to boost the offense would be to recall outfielder Josh Lowe, but that doesn’t help them defensively and creates a lineup crunch after Margot returns from a hamstring strain possibly next week.)

“We need some guys to step up and fill that void,” centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “We’ve got the guys to do it, whether it’s Brujan, Isaac Paredes, ‘T-Walls.’ There will be plenty of opportunity here in the next few weeks for guys to try to take advantage of an opportunity. We’ll see how it plays out.”

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