At long last, the highly anticipated Vidal Bruján debut has arrived.
No, it is not quite like the Wander Franco debut. But Bruján is a highly regarded Rays prospect himself, ranking number 36 overall on MLB.com and number 11 on Baseball America. In fact, many (myself included) thought Bruján would get the call before Franco, though that was more an indictment on the Tampa Bay organization than their respective potentials.
Scorching through AAA
Starting the season in AAA with the Durham Bulls, it seemed like the Vidal Bruján debut would happen sooner than later. In the first 16 games of the minor league season, Bruján was unstoppable, smashing seven home runs en route to a .338/.427/.677 slash line. It seemed like Bruján might be the first of the handful of Rays prospects to get the call (that honor went to Taylor Walls instead). However, Bruján came down to earth a bit, finishing his (current) AAA season with a respectable but not world-shattering .259/.344/.471, adding only two more home runs to his total since May 22.
The initial power surge seemed a bit too good to be true, as Bruján’s hype comes from his speed and eye, not his power. A switch hitter, the now-23-year-old signed with the Rays as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2014. He has a sharp eye — fueling elite contact skills along with solid plate discipline — and significant wheels, leading to a combined 103 stolen bases between two full seasons in 2018 and 2019 as he worked his way up to Double-A.
The early season power stroke might have been a mirage, as Bruján has never shown significant power (career .133 ISO in the minors). Interestingly, while most of his power has traditionally come as a lefty, five of his nine home runs in 2021 came as a right-handed batter (further evidence it may have been a streak of good luck).
In the field, Bruján has always been profiled as a second baseman, with enough speed and athleticism to play shortstop in a pinch. Recently, he started getting reps in the outfield, logging about half of his 2021 starts as an outfielder. With a crowded Rays infield (made more crowded by the mid-season callups of Franco and Walls), Bruján’s raw athleticism and positional flexibility will be of massive import to the Tampa Bay team.
The Vidal Bruján Debut
While Bruján was added to the Rays’ 40-man roster in 2020, it was not until July 7, 2021 when he got his first taste of major league action. The 23-year-old got the call ahead of the Rays’ doubleheader against Cleveland. Bruján got the starting nod in the first game, playing second (pushing Brandon Lowe to the outfield) and batting fifth.
He wasted no time getting involved, making a nice play at second in the top of the first inning to beat Amed Rosario to first on a grounder. It is a play we are likely to see quite a few times as Bruján should eventually settle in as the everyday second baseman.
It was not long before he got his first look at big league pitching either, coming up in the bottom of the first with two on and two out. He fell behind 0-2 before lining a Jean Carlos Mejia sinker into right field to collect a single and score Joey Wendle for his first career hit and RBI. He then swiped second unchallenged from Cleveland.
He got the start in game two as well, this time in right field. Between the two seven-inning games, Bruján ended the day one for six with two strikeouts and a stolen base. But that first inning is a perfect encapsulation of Bruján’s profile, with raw line-drive power, elite speed, and great defensive prowess. As he continues to acclimate to major league pitching, fans should anticipate a moves up the order, fitting in most naturally as a leadoff hitter.
Barring significant trouble with the transition, Bruján should be here to stay. With the trade of Willy Adames and solid flexibility from the rest of the infield, the Rays are looking to establish what could be a longtime fixture of the infield, with Bruján, Walls, and Franco forming an impenetrable wall at second, short, and third, respectively. Lowe might continue getting the lion’s share of starts at the keystone for now, but Bruján is most likely the Rays’ long-term plan.
As the Rays look to hold onto the first wild card spot (and fight to take over first in the American League East from the Red Sox), Bruján should factor in as a big focus. With his sharp eye and elite speed, he should settle in quickly — or at least, so the Rays hope.
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