We’ve got a slow Monday here “news wise”, so I thought I’d get back to writing some player profiles. Also, a link I wanted to pass along that I thought I had before, is the link to James Happ’s blog. Happ has been writing a blog for MLB.com and talking about his experiences in his first big league camp. Check it out and say hello. Also, scroll down below this post and read contributor andyb’s take on our Dominican Summer League prospects. Now, onto Mr Bourn…
Michael Bourn was drafted in the 19th round of the 2000 draft by the Houston Astros, but chose to go to college, attending the University of Houston for three seasons before being drafted in the 4th round by the Phillies. At 5’11, 180lbs, Bourn never hit for power in college, but he did have a very impressive batting eye, and stole 90 bases in 3 years. The Phillies nabbed him in the third round and sent him straight to Batavia. In 35 games, he posted a .280/.404/.296 line and stole 23 bases in 28 attempts. The lack of power probably wasn’t a surprise, but for his first taste of pro ball, the fact that he drew 23 walks to only 28 strikeouts had to be viewed as promising in the Phillies eyes.
Bourn spent all of 2004 at Lakewood, his age 21 season, and he held his own. In 109 games, he posted a .317/.433/.470 batting line, with 20 2B, 14 3B and 5 HR. The triples obviously helped raise his slugging %, and he further utilized his speed to the tune of 57 stolen bases, getting caught only 6 times, for a 90% success rate, and incredible number. With his really strong full season debut, the Phillies decided to double jump him in 2005, skipping him over High Class A Clearwater and straight to AA Reading. 2005, his age 22 season, proved to be a bit of a disappointment. In 135 games, his batting line dipped to .268/.348/.364, 18 2B, 8 3B, and 6 HR. His slugging obviously dropped way down as a result, but he still managed to swipe an impressive 38 SB, but this time was thrown out 12 times, only having a 76% success rate. Still, Bourn was only 22, and had plenty of time to get back on track.
In 2006, the Phillies decided to have him start back at Reading again. He didn’t show much improvement, as in 80 games, his batting line was only .274/.350/.365, with 5 2B, 6 3B, and 4 HR. The Phillies still decided to promote him to Scranton, maybe with the hopes of kick-starting him. And it kind of worked, as he put up a line of .283/.368/.428 in 38 games. Over all of 2006, he stole 45 bases, being caught only 5 times, and appeared to be back on track in that department. Still, his power and ability to use his speed out of the box appeared to struggle again. A guy who lives and dies on his speed should have more than 10 doubles over the course of 130+ games. Nevertheless, when the rosters expanded in September, the Phillies decided to give Bourn a promotion and get him a taste of Philadelphia. He was used mainly as a pinch runner/defensive replacement, getting only 8 AB, where he got 2 hits and drew 1 BB. He also stole 1 base, but was caught stealing twice, one an in infamous play in Houston, where he was sent in to pinch run and was then picked off of first base in front of his home town fans.
So, where does Bourn go from here, and what can we expect from him? Right now, he’s a long shot to make the team out of camp, mainly because of the presence of guys older than him and have more experience. Long term value wise, Bourn probably has more potential than Greg Dobbs, but Dobbs is off to a hot start, and he’s been around much longer. The Phillies still control Bourn for quite a while, and he’s already on the 40 man roster, so they don’t have to do anything special with him. As a 5th OF, Bourn could bring quite a bit of speed and the ability to improve late inning defense, but Dobbs offers a power bat off the bench, and I’m sure that’s something Gillick and Manuel will talk about. But with injuries, and certainly in September when the rosters expand, Bourn will get his looks, if it doesn’t happen now.
The problem is going to be defining Bourn’s role, and figuring out how he fits into this team. Bourn has a very defined skill set that doesn’t appear like it’s going to change anytime soon. He has almost ZERO raw power, which means he’s always going to live and die by his legs and ability to make things happen. In the lower minors, Bourn had an excellent walk rate and seemed like the perfect leadoff hitter. But as he’s climbed the ladder, the strikeout totals have been rising and his walk rate hasn’t been rising enough to justify just throwing him into the leadoff spot on our team. If he can post a .380 OB% at the major league level, he becomes a very valuable asset. However, if he’s more like a .340 OB% guy, he’s just going to make a ton of outs, and his speed on the bases will not be properly utilized. The other problem is, the Phillies currently have Shane Victorino and Aaron Rowand already on the roster, two pure centerfielders. Bourn does not profile at a corner spot unless it’s just for late inning defense, and neither Rowand nor Victorino are really corner outfielders, both are much better utilized in center. That leaves the Phillies in a tough spot with Bourn.
Ultimately, if his batting eye returns, he’s going to be a solid big leaguer, but that remains a big if to me. Right now, I can’t see a true spot for him on this team. If he gets hot in Ottawa and has a nice start, the Phillies could explore trading Rowand and then using Bourn in CF and Victorino in RF, but that doesn’t seem all that likely, and if Rowand is traded, it probably just increases the likelihood of Greg Dobbs making the team. That really looks to leave Bourn as a guy who won’t make it back to Philly until the summer some time in the event of an injury, or possibly even as late as September with the roster expansion. His performance at AAA this season will ultimately go a long way in determining what role/impact he’ll have in 2008, but he should