Bruján a do-it-all prospect in Rays' pipeline

Infielder/outfielder leading off at Triple-A with a surge in slugging

June 8th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays entered Monday’s off-day with the best record in the American League, having won 19 of their last 23 games. Their pitching is as reliable as ever. Their lineup has come to life. Their defense is unrivaled. And by the way, they also have baseball’s best Minor League system.

While covering the big league club every day, will also be keeping tabs on Tampa Bay’s top performers, trends and storylines down on the farm throughout the summer in this weekly Minor League notebook. We’ll start with a look at the Rays’ No. 2 prospect, infielder/outfielder Vidal Bruján.

Bruján doesn’t draw the same level of attention as his Triple-A Durham teammate, No. 1 overall prospect Wander Franco. The drumbeat for his promotion isn’t quite as loud, either. But Bruján, MLB Pipeline’s No. 39 prospect, has been every bit as impressive to start the season.

On Sunday, the Rays named Bruján their Minor League Hitter of the Month for May. All the 23-year-old switch-hitter has done is hit .305/.407/.543 with seven homers, 13 stolen bases and nearly as many walks (18) as strikeouts (20).

The biggest surprise might be Bruján’s power, as he slugged seven homers in his first 16 games of the season. You might expect stolen bases and strong defense from a player listed at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds with a 70-grade speed tool. MLB Pipeline gave him just 40-grade power, but he’s tapping into every bit of pop that he has.

“For a while, he’s been one of our pound-for-pound strongest players,” director of Minor League operations Jeff McLerran said. “Now he’s starting to use that strength in his swing to put the ball over the fence.”

McLerran said the Rays saw Bruján take strides offensively last summer at their alternate training site, when he played alongside Tampa Bay shortstop , Franco and a bunch of other young players who either reached the big leagues or were nearly ready to do so. Triple-A manager Brady Williams lauded Bruján’s “diligent” strike zone management, so meticulous that he won’t even swing at a pitch in batting practice unless it’s right down the middle.

“But it’s good for him,” Williams said. “He’s aware of the strike zone, and that’s what shows up in the game.”

Swinging at good pitches has played a big part in Bruján’s slugging percentage jump from .389 in 2019 to .543 through 27 games this season. He was also an active participant in Tampa Bay’s offseason strength-and-conditioning program every year it’s been offered, one example of how seriously Bruján has taken his physical development, and he’s now channeling the muscle he’s added the past few years into his swing.

“I don’t think he would say he’s a home run hitter, either. He’s just trying to get a good pitch to hit and hit it hard. It’s just happened that they’ve gone out of the ballpark because he’s gotten a lot stronger over the years,” Williams said. “If you’re swinging at good pitches, you’ve got a chance to drive the ball. And he’s definitely doing that, and he’s taking his walks. There’s a lot of positives up to this point for him.”

Most days, Bruján is batting leadoff for Durham with Franco right behind him. Bruján has started 15 games in the outfield (six in center, five in right, four in left) and spends most of his time before games working in the outfield, McLerran said, but he’s also lined up alongside Franco on the infield as a second baseman (seven starts), third baseman (two) and shortstop (one).

Bruján’s versatility should help him find a path to playing time in the Majors this season. If the Rays have a need in the infield or outfield, he could potentially fill either. The Rays have other options, of course, namely Franco in the infield and Josh Lowe in the outfield. But Tampa Bay loves versatile young players, and while he still has room to improve his reads on the basepaths and jumps in the outfield, Bruján has turned himself into a prospect who can do it all.

“That’s the one thing with Bruján, how dynamic he is,” Williams said. “To be able to play shortstop, second base, third base, center field, left field, right field, be a switch-hitter, hit for power, steal some bases -- I mean, there’s just a lot of positives that he can do.”


Triple-A Durham (20-9, 2nd place in the Triple-A East - Southeast Division)
• Obviously Durham’s greatest concern is the health of reliever Tyler Zombro, who moved out of the intensive care unit on Monday after being struck in the head by a line drive on Thursday. So far, the updates have been as encouraging as one could hope for.

• While immediately jumped into a high-leverage role for the Rays, -- the other reliever acquired in the Willy Adames trade -- is thriving for Durham. Rasmussen has 13 strikeouts with just one walk and four hits allowed in seven scoreless innings over five outings. In his first appearance, he struck out two of the three batters he faced with a fastball that touched 100 mph and a slider that clocked in at 90 mph. He’ll help the big league bullpen at some point, possibly in a multi-inning capacity considering his last two outings have been two innings.

• Yes, Franco is raking in his first taste of Triple-A. He’s hitting .313/.365/.557 with five homers, nine doubles, 26 RBIs and only 14 strikeouts in 126 plate appearances. And it’s worth noting that, while he has spent some time at second and third, most of his work has come at shortstop.

Double-A Montgomery (12-17, 3rd place in the Double-A South - South Division)
• While Tyler Glasnow is pitching like an ace and Austin Meadows has caught fire for the Rays, right-hander Shane Baz has 43 strikeouts with only two walks to go along with a 2.93 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in six starts for the Biscuits.

• Rays manager Kevin Cash was impressed in Spring Training by the versatility, approach and arm of . At 25, he’s a little older than your average Double-A player, but he’s off to a strong .309/.374/.509 start while having played six positions.

High-A Bowling Green (19-11, 1st place in the High-A East - South Division)
• Shortstop Greg Jones, the Rays’ No. 8 prospect, has dynamic tools across the board, and they’re all showing up on the field. We already knew about his athleticism and knack for stealing bases, and now he’s tapping into more power as well. Jones is hitting .274/.410/.516 with four homers and 10 steals.

• Outfielder Ruben Cardenas, a 23-year-old outfielder acquired from Cleveland for Christian Arroyo and Hunter Wood in July 2019, has been a bright spot for the Hot Rods, hitting .365/.422/.615 with seven homers in 25 games. And his power is legit. The grand slam he hit last Wednesday was the third-hardest-hit ball in the entire organization this season, behind only two Mike Zunino blasts (117.3 mph on May 14 and 116.1 mph on May 30).

Low-A Charleston (18-12, 2nd place in the Low-A East - South Division)
• While Bruján was the Rays’ Minor League Hitter of the Month, the Pitcher of the Month honor for May went to left-hander John Doxakis. Tampa Bay’s No. 29 prospect went 3-0 with a 0.82 ERA and 33 strikeouts in five starts and won Low-A East Pitcher of the Month honors. He’s a strike-thrower with good command and movement, and he’ll throw anything in any count -- a trait that plays well in the low Minors.

• Take a moment to appreciate the absurd strikeout numbers put up by relievers Colby White and Trevor Brigden. White has whiffed 33 of the 57 batters he’s faced while only walking one in 15 1/3 innings over 10 outings. Brigden, who’s been away pitching for Team Canada, had 23 strikeouts and only four walks against the first 38 batters he faced.

• Shortstop prospect Osleivis Basabe, acquired in the Nate Lowe trade, joined Charleston last week after essentially spending May going through his personal Spring Training. Basabe was a late arrival to camp due to a delay getting into the United States from Venezuela, but he has now joined the other members of that trade -- Heriberto Hernandez and Alexander Ovalles -- on Charleston’s roster. Basabe took the spot of shortstop Alika Williams, who is on the injured list with forearm tightness that isn’t believed to be serious.