The Curious Case of Reid Michael Brignac
The Tampa Bay Rays traded shortstop Reid Brignac to the Colorado Rockies today for a player to be named and cash. Brignac has been a significant disappointment as a hitter, batting just .227/.268/.317 in 716 plate appearances over five years with the Rays. He was one of the best position player prospects in baseball a few years ago. Here's what happened.
Brignac was drafted in the second round in 2004, from high school in St. Amant, Louisiana. He was considered a very strong hitter with more power potential than most middle infielders. Many scouts projected that he would outgrow shortstop, but most felt he would hit well enough to handle third base. Brignac hit .378/.427/.486 in his 28-game pro debut split between rookie ball and Low-A, showing the expected power potential and good plate discipline. I rated him as a Grade B prospect entering '05.
Moved up to the Low-A Midwest League for '05, Brignac hit .264/.319/.416 with 15 homers, 40 walks, and 131 strikeouts in 512 at-bats. The power was there, but his plate discipline was worse than expected, and his OPS came out just a hair better than league average. Reviews of his defense were mixed, although after seeing him in person I felt he had at least some chance of staying at shortstop. I cut his rating to a Grade C+ entering '06, worrying about his ability to handle breaking pitches.
2006 began in the High-A California League, where Brignac hit .326/.382/.557 with 21 homers in 100 games for Visalia, with a 35/82 BB/K ratio. Promoted to Double-A, he continued to hit outside the California League with a .300/.355/.473 mark in 28 games for Montgomery, though his plate discipline took a hit with a 7/31 BB/K in 110 at-bats. Reports on his glove remained mixed, but despite the problems with strike zone judgment, I was convinced that the step forward with the bat was genuine and rated him accordingly, giving him a Grade A- entering '07 and ranking him 13th overall among hitting prospects.
Brignac returned to Montgomery in 2007, hitting .260/.328/.433 with 17 homers, 55 walks, and 94 strikeouts in 527 at-bats. At this stage, scouting reports indicated good power, but also a tendency to pull the ball too much; scouts worried that pitchers at higher levels would find the flaws in his swing. His glovework still drew mixed reviews, as he showed a good throwing arm but not-terrific range. I still believed in him and gave him a Grade B+ entering '08, ranking him at #16 overall.
He continued his steady rise up the ladder in '08, playing 97 games for Triple-A Durham. The good news was that his defense took a huge step forward: he worked very hard to improve his reliability, range, and positioning, and scouts no longer had doubts about his defense, rating it as above-average to excellent. On the other hand, his bat took a step backward: he hit .250/.299/.412 with nine homers, 25 walks, and 93 strikeouts in 352 at-bats. Reports indicated that he simply lost the strike zone, plus he would lengthen his swing in an attempt to hit for more power. Concerned about his stalling development, I rated him as a Grade C+ for '09.
For Durham in '09, he improved his approach somewhat and hit .282/.327/.417 in 96 games, with a 27/69 BB/K in 415 at-bats. He played 31 games for the Rays, hitting .278/.301/.444; he had plate discipline issues with a 3/20 BB/K in 90 at-bats, but the pop was there and his defense was sharp. I moved him back up to a Grade B- for '10, writing that I saw him as a "baselinie .260/.310/.400 hitter, which isn't bad for a shortstop who can field well."
Brignac played 113 games for the Rays in '10, hitting .256/.307/.385, 92 OPS+, 1.5 WAR. However his hitting tailed off in '11 with a .193/.227/.221 mark, then he spent most of 2012 back in Triple-A, having a terrible season for Durham (.231/.323/.353).
So what we have here is a guy who came into pro ball from high school with a "strong bat, doubtful glove" reputation but who is now exactly the opposite: strong glove, doubtful bat. By all accounts, he's worked very hard to improve his defense, with good results. But for all that effort, Brignac's inability to control the strike zone and unlock the secrets of advanced pitching cost him his job in Tampa. Plate discipline was always his biggest weakness even when he was putting up solid overall numbers, and he just hasn't been able to fix that weakness.
Can he recover? He just turned 27 last month, the classic age for sudden improvement, and Coors Field is obviously a much friendlier hitting environment than Tropicana. I totally understand why the Rays let Brignac go; it just wasn't happening for him, but this is a low- risk, potentially high-reward move for the Rockies. Perhaps a new set of coaching eyes and a fresh start will revive the hitting skills that Brignac showed when he was younger.
If anyone needs a change of scenery, it's Brignac.