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Infield duo sent down on a mission

Reid Brignac and Evan Longoria, prospects and friends, like their taste of life in the bigs.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published March 14, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Reid Brignac, the bayou boy from Louisiana, and Evan Longoria, the California cool college kid, wouldn't seem to have much in common except for the 90 feet of dirt they share at work.

Coming together in Visalia, Calif., last June and coming up together to Double A in August, they became fast friends, sharing an apartment, musical tastes and dreams. And when the Devil Rays sent them down to the minors on Tuesday, the players immediately began looking ahead to when they'd come back and play together, side by side, with Brignac at shortstop and Longoria at third base.

"That would be nice," Brignac said. "That would be really cool. We'd both like that to happen. We've had a ball so far going from A to AA. We'd like to keep going."

Brignac and Longoria were among 10 players shipped out as the Rays reduced their spring roster to 46. The talented group sent down includes two promising pitching prospects, Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot, who both could be in the Rays rotation by the end of the season.

Brignac and Longoria need a little longer to matriculate, likely to start this season back at Double-A Montgomery. But when they get to the majors, perhaps in 2008 or so, they could stay - together - for a long time.

"Both made really good first impressions, as anticipated," manager Joe Maddon said. "You definitely could see those two side-by-side, there's no question about it."

Brignac, 21, was the Rays' minor-league player of the year for a season in which he hit .321 with 24 homers and 99 RBIs and earned the California League MVP and top rookie awards. He improved enough defensively despite 33 errors to quiet at least some of the chatter that he was too big, at 6 feet 3, or didn't have the hands to play short.

But he might have made an even bigger impression with how he went about his work.

"When we had our meetings over the winter and Joe Maddon was talking about leadership, the first person that came to my mind was Brignac," said Charlie Montoyo, Montgomery's manager last season. "When he gets here, he's going to be one of those guys we're looking for. He's a leader. This guys cares. He plays all out all the time, and he's got tools."

Outfielder Fernando Perez called him "a champion." Niemann tabbed him "an immediate presence." Maddon lauded him for being bright and attentive.

Brignac said he doesn't know any other way. He works hard and plays hard and said the three weeks he spent around the big-leaguers only reinforces what he believes, and what he wants.

"I think it gives me a chip on my shoulder to get back here, to never stop working and to not be satisfied in the minor leagues," he said. "I'm going to work even harder to get back here to be with these guys."

Longoria, 21, had a dazzling and dizzying debut season after being the No. 3 pick in June out of Long Beach State, zipping from Hudson Valley to Visalia to Montgomery. He hit .315 with 18 homers and 58 RBIs in 62 games (after hitting .353-11-32 in 56 college games) and made good impressions along the way.

"I saw everything that was advertised," Montoyo said. "He was a good offensive player, a good defensive player, he did it all."

Longoria said he is even better now, after three weeks being educated about mental aspects of the game. Tuesday was the first time he'd ever been told he wasn't good enough to make a team, and - as he collected his teammates' signatures on his batting helmet - he said he was more determined to get back as well.

"Just sitting on the bench you learned a lot," he said. "I learned so much from the guys. I'll take it back down, and be inspired to work even harder to get back up here."

And when they do?

"That," Montoyo said, "would be beautiful to see."

Fast Facts:

 

Rays cuts

The Rays reduced their spring roster to 46 on Tuesday, 21 above the opening day limit, with these 10 moves:

Optioned to Triple-A Durham

RHP Jeff Niemann

RHP Mitch Talbot

Reassigned to minor-league camp:

RHP Stephen Andrade

C Ron Arhart

SS Reid Brignac

OF Jason Grabowski

3B Evan Longoria

RHP Tony Peguero

OF Fernando Perez

RHP Andy Sonnanstine