PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays want to see prospect Vidal Bruján play center field this spring, but his first start in the outfield ended early on Wednesday.
Bruján caught the only ball hit his way in the fourth inning, then he was forced to exit the Rays’ 3-1, six-inning win over the Pirates in the fifth when he took a pitch off the instep of his left foot. Bruján walked to Tampa Bay’s clubhouse at Charlotte Sports Park under his own power and reported to manager Kevin Cash after the game that he felt good enough to play as scheduled on Thursday afternoon against the Twins.
So Bruján should have more opportunities to play center field during Spring Training. Cash said the Rays likely would have explored that possibility last year had the Minor League season not been canceled.
“He's a pretty electric player, physically, with the speed, the arm, all those things, something that we definitely want to get out there,” Cash said. “We all know how much we value versatility. To have a guy that can come in and play center field, 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.”
The D-backs’ Ketel Marte is one example, as he has emerged as an extremely valuable player while lining up at both middle infield spots and center field the past two years. And the speedy Bruján, MLB Pipeline’s No. 50 prospect, could make a similar impact for the Rays soon. He’s on the 40-man roster, and this added versatility could make him an option at multiple positions if the big league team needs reinforcements this season.
Tampa Bay’s Minor League system is loaded with middle infield prospects. The system’s depth has been evident in camp when the club runs infield drills with Wander Franco, Taylor Walls, Bruján, Xavier Edwards and Greg Jones working together -- not to mention Major Leaguers Willy Adames, Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle and Mike Brosseau. There is some natural competition there, but Bruján said they all get along well.
“We push ourselves, and we help each other out. We like to support each other,” he said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “We want each other to succeed, so it's really good to have these guys around.”
Bruján said he grew up playing all over the diamond, and he spent some time working in the outfield during winter ball in the Dominican Republic. His elite speed gives him the ability to track down balls, he has the arm to handle an outfield spot, and he’s projected to hit well enough as a switch-hitter to hold down an everyday job.
As for how he feels about getting some time in center? Bruján’s wit seems as quick as his feet.
“Hopefully I can be either the next [Kevin] Kiermaier or even better,” he said.
Left-hander Shane McClanahan threw 10 pitches in a scoreless first inning on Wednesday, flashing a nasty slider and touching 101 mph on the stadium’s radar gun. McClanahan, who threw eight of his 10 pitches for strikes, froze Pirates first baseman Colin Moran with triple-digit heat on his final pitch of the inning.
“There was also a lot of strikes, which I'm more happy about,” McClanahan said. “I've been feeling good. The guys here put me in a good position to be healthy and to be ready to compete, day in and day out, so I think that's just the result of being prepared.”
Then came lefty Josh Fleming, who proved last season with the Rays that he can succeed without big-time velocity. Fleming quickly worked a clean second inning, getting a popout, a groundout and a called strikeout while leaning on his diving sinker.
“They were coming out swinging the bat, being ultra-aggressive, but he was able to throw that sinker into lefties and jam them,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “He naturally fills the strike zone up but misses barrels. We're right where he left last season, which is a great spot.”
Cash said both lefties will be built up as starting pitchers this spring and are “very much in the mix” to play roles for the Rays this season, whether it’s on Opening Day, in the event of an early injury or later in the year.
“Those aren’t fun at-bats, definitely for lefties but any of them, when you’ve got that kind of movement or that kind of velocity behind it,” Cash said. “They both get there different ways, but they’re both very, very talented, and they’re going to play big roles for us.”
Around the horn
• Yoshi Tsutsugo went 0-for-1 with a walk and played four innings at first base, his first action there for the Rays. Tampa Bay wants to have another option at first behind Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Díaz, creating additional depth in case of an injury. Cash said he’d heard good things about Tsutsugo’s early work at first, and what he saw Wednesday lined up with those reviews.
“Yoshi looked totally comfortable at first,” Cash said. “He looked very natural over there going to cover the bag.”
• Choi made his first start of the spring as the Rays’ designated hitter and went 0-for-1 with a walk.
• The Rays’ Triple-A Durham affiliate confirmed on Tuesday night that the Triple-A season will be delayed by approximately four weeks, with Tampa Bay again utilizing an alternate training site in the meantime.
“While this isn’t the news we wanted to hear, we are in agreement the health and safety of our fans, players and staff are of utmost importance,” Durham Bulls vice president of baseball operations Mike Birling said in a statement. “We appreciate the commitment and patience of our incredible fans as we work through the latest news.”
Left-hander Ryan Yarbrough and right-hander Luis Patiño are scheduled to take the mound on Thursday as the Rays head south to play the Twins at the CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers. This will be the first outing of the spring for both pitchers, with Yarbrough locked in as a prominent part of the Rays’ rotation and Patiño, the No. 19 prospect in baseball, looking to show his stuff as he angles for a spot.
Right-hander Kenta Maeda is scheduled to start for Minnesota. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. ET, airing on FOX Sports Sun and MLB.TV.