Most clubs would consider themselves lucky to bring up one Top 40 overall prospect to the Major League roster. The Rays are set to add their second in the last two weeks.
Tampa Bay called up MLB No. 36 prospect Vidal Bruján to be the 27th man ahead of Wednesday’s doubleheader at home against Cleveland. Bruján joins forces with MLB No. 1 prospect Wander Franco and is likely to stick with the Rays beyond the twin bill should outfielder Manuel Margot head to the injured list with a hamstring issue.
The 23-year-old switch-hitter brings a ton of speed to Tampa Bay’s Major League roster. His run tool receives plus-plus grades, and it plays well on the basepaths. Bruján stole 15 bases in 49 games with Triple-A Durham, tied for the most at the Minors’ top level in 2021. His 118 thefts since the start of the 2018 season, when he first appeared for a full-season club, lead all Minor Leaguers in that span. The Rays are already tied for fourth in the Majors with 55 steals of their own this season but could stand to climb higher if they give Bruján the necessary green lights in The Show.
The Dominican Republic native has generally been a plus hitter in the pros -- one who makes a considerable amount of hard, line-drive contact without striking out all that much. He looked like he was starting to add some power to that offensive profile this season, and his nine homers already match his career high, set in 73 more games in 2018. But Bruján went deep only twice in June and last homered on June 20. He started to show some signs of snapping out of his June cold streak by going 9-for-24 (.375) with a triple and three doubles in his last seven games for the Bulls prior to this week’s promotion.
Heading into his debut Tuesday, Tampa Bay’s No. 2 prospect owns a .259/.344/.471 line, 116 wRC+ and low 15.7 percent strikeout rate in his first turn through Triple-A. He has shown more power as a right-handed hitter, where he has slugged .500 and hit five of his nine homers but has batted only .216, but also exhibits a better overall approach from the left side, where he has a .287 average and 20/19 K/BB ratio.
One of the most interesting things to follow with Bruján will be where the Rays will utilize him most in the field.
Bruján has played all but pitcher, first base and catcher this season. The plurality of his starts have come at second base, his primary position coming into the year, but Tampa Bay has expanded his workload to include all three outfield spots to give him plenty of space to roam and show off those plus-plus wheels. Margot’s injury would indicate that Bruján is most likely to get looks on the grass in the Majors. That said, no one values versatility more than the Tampa Bay organization and, specifically, manager Kevin Cash. It’s possible that Bruján could spell Brandon Lowe at second from time to time or give the Rays yet another option at third base, where they’ve had five different starters so far in 2021. His athleticism and above-average arm are both assets in that defensive equation.
Even if Bruján doesn’t settle into one specific spot on the diamond, his wide set of tools gives him multiple avenues to boost Tampa Bay’s postseason hopes, both this year and beyond.