Tampa Bay Rays' Rockin' Rookies

Tom DubberkeCorrespondent IJune 21, 2010

ST. PETERSBURG - JUNE 12:  Catcher John Jaso #28 of the Tampa Bay Rays fouls off a pitch against the Florida Marlins during the game at Tropicana Field on June 12, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

A couple of days ago I noticed how well Rays' rookies catcher John Jaso and 2B/SS Reid Brignac are playing.  I’ve seen very little written about either of them, so I thought I’d try to fill the void.

Brignac is 24 this year, and he’s splitting time almost evenly for the Rays between second and shortstop.  Regular shortstop Jason Bartlett is back after a hamstring injury put him on the DL for 15 days, but Bartlett hasn’t been hitting, and Brignac has stepped in to fill the void.

Brignac is currently hitting .281 and has a .347 on-base percentage, which is great for a middle infielder.  Fangraphs likes his defense at both second and short this year.

Brignac was a second round draft pick in 2004 (45th overall), and he’s steadily worked his way up through the minors with a series of strong but unspectacular seasons (career minor league OPS of .786).  He’s shown an ability to get on base at an adequate rate for a middle infielder, and he hit with decent power until he reached the AAA level, so there’s a good chance he’ll add power (maybe 15-20 HRs per season) as he gains experience at the major league level.

If the improvement Brignac has shown so far in 2010 at age 24 is for real, he should be a valuable addition to the Rays for the next six seasons.

Catcher John Jaso has essentially taken the starting job away from Dioner Navarro.  Navarro looked like he was going to be a major star two years ago, when at age 24 he hit .295 with a .756 OPS and led all AL starting catchers with a 38.4 percent success rate at throwing out attempted base stealers in the year the Rays went to the World Series.

In 2009 Navarro’s OPS fell to an awful .583, and he’s only brought it back up to .587 so far in 2010.  No matter how good your defense is behind the plate, it’s hard to swallow that little offense.

Meanwhile, Jaso is hitting .290 with an .836 OPS so far in 2010.  Jaso is actually about six months older than Navarro, and the Rays' ERA is about a run higher when Jaso is catching than when Navarro is behind the dish.  However, every team needs at least two catchers, and between Jaso’s hitting and Navarro’s defense, the Rays have been well-served by the combination.

Jaso is already 26 years old, but he was a good hitter for a catcher throughout his minor league career (.378 OBP and .816 OPS), and given that his current .836 OPS is close to his minor league norms, he should be a useful player for the Rays for at least the next couple of seasons.