Brosseau: ALDS HR a big confidence boost

March 1st, 2021

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- In the third inning of the Rays’ 9-7 win over the Braves on Sunday afternoon, Mike Brosseau crushed a pitch from Braves left-hander Sean Newcomb and sent it flying over the left-field fence at Charlotte Sports Park.

Going deep in the Grapefruit League opener wasn’t quite as a big of a deal as the last home run Brosseau hit, though. You know the one.

Brosseau’s game-winning homer off the Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman in Game 5 of the American League Division Series last October was one of the biggest hits in franchise history. It was poetic justice, perhaps, considering it came off the same pitcher who threw a 101 mph fastball near Brosseau’s head last September. It was “hands-down the greatest moment I’ve been a part of in baseball,” manager Kevin Cash said afterward.

It was also a conversation-starter throughout the offseason for Brosseau and a confidence-booster for the undrafted utility man with 240 Major League plate appearances to his name.

“I think I've always felt like I belonged in the big leagues, and I felt like … I put in the work to have success at the big league level,” Brosseau said Sunday morning. “And to kind of see a big moment pay off like that, I think it did a lot for my confidence just going forward.”

Brosseau, 26, said he was blown away by the response that hit generated. He heard from people throughout baseball, getting the sense his triumphant moment really resonated with hitters who’d been knocked down the way he was by Chapman. Bryce Harper reached out via social media, which struck Brosseau as particularly special.

The recognition has hardly changed the man Cash called “one of everybody's favorite teammates.”

“He's just so aware of his surroundings and, I think, appreciative of his opportunity and his role,” Cash said. “For the amount that he has helped us at the big league level over the last two years in whatever role is asked, he is a big league player, and he has earned the right to go about his business getting ready to help us in whatever capacity.”

That capacity remains to be seen, as he doesn’t have an everyday job locked down at one position. He thrived in a bench role last season, seizing the opportunity whenever the Rays called upon him. He’s done most of his damage against left-handed pitchers, although Cash said the Rays also trust him to handle right-handers. He was by some metrics one of the team’s best hitters during the regular season, hitting .302/.378/.558 in 98 plate appearances and totaling 1.4 WAR in 36 games.

“That takes a special knack. That's not easy to do,” Cash said. “It’s kind of a running joke: 'Are you ready? Are you loose?' And, you know, 'You don't have to get loose when you wake up loose. You don't have to get ready when you wake up ready.' Anytime you ask him if he's ready, you're going to get that -- and he's being genuine. I really do think the guy can get out of bed and be ready to play.”

Brosseau has played six different positions, if you include his 4 1/3 innings on the mound, along with designated hitter in the Majors over the last two years. He started at first base on Sunday and could platoon there with Ji-Man Choi this season, but he’s also expected to bounce around the infield and work some at shortstop, where he last played regularly in college.

All that moving around is no big deal to Brosseau. He spent the winter cleaning up his swing so he doesn’t cut himself off on his follow-through and working to improve his first-step quickness, which will help him at any position.

“I'm fine playing wherever, honestly,” Brosseau said. “With the early work that we do with the staff, they get us right for wherever we're playing for that day. So as far as a set position, I'm not too concerned about it. The biggest thing for me is just being able to compete and help this team win those important games and those games that we know are going to be important down the stretch.”

Brosseau did that last year, and his ALDS home run will come to mind whenever people speak of the Rays’ second AL pennant-winning club. He’ll probably continue to have people send him the replay, which he joked Sunday he’s seen “once or twice” despite never seeking it out himself. That moment made clear for everyone something the Rays already believed: He belongs on their team.

“I feel comfortable in this clubhouse. As far as [being] comfortable on the big league stage, I feel comfortable,” he said. “I put in the work on a daily basis to make me feel comfortable going into the game, which is the most important part. I think, in general, I feel like I'm in a pretty good place right now. I like where I'm at.”