Player Profile: Michael Bourn

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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

13 thoughts on “Player Profile: Michael Bourn

  1. Sounds like a dead ringer for Juan Pierre. Unofrtunately, that’s a difficult skill set to translate into a career as a full-time big-leaguer. It’s doubtful Bourn will ever hit .300+ at the big-league level — as Pierre does. He’ll probably stick aroud the fringes as a spare outfielder for awhile.

  2. One small correction, James. Bourn was drafted #4, not 3. Moss
    was drafted #3 that year, a big mistake IMO. As I recall, BA
    rated both Bourn and Moran higher than Moss.

    I think you’ve got Bourn pegged pretty well. He should be sent
    down and given a full year at AAA, unless of course there’s an
    emergency of some kind. Right now, Dobbs looks like a better
    fit for the big club. Roberson is finished IMO. He continues
    to look overmatched at the plate. If he has a future, it’s in
    another organization IMO.

  3. Bourn is on wrong club at wrong time. If he was at this stage of his career a couple years ago, he would have gotten shot with Phillies as starting CF by now. With Rowand and Victorino ahead of him, he has zero chance to start for Phillies. I think there are teams that would give him a shot to start in CF, based on D and obp. His lack of power really limits him in CBP. He needs to play for a team with a huge park.

  4. Bourn’s value is really really hard to figure out, as a whole. Take this example:

    .300/.390/.370

    That’s a .760 OPS, which, by most any standard, is not very valuable. However, if he’s getting on base at a .390 clip, does that outweigh his very pedestrian slugging %? If he posts the above line and can steal 50 bags at an 85% success rate, how much does that add to his value?

    The problem is, if his OB% is around .340-.355, I’d have to think he has close to zero value, even with the speed. Just for comparison’s sake

    .327/.374/.407

    That was Juan Pierre’s batting line in 2004. It was good for only a 107 OPS+. However, his runs created for 2004 was 102, or 5.43/27, which is certainly decent.

    The real question is, if Bourn is another Juan Pierre, is that really a good thing? By most accounts, Bourn is a better defender than Pierre, so youd have to factor that, and Bourn’s minor league SB% is better than Pierre’s in the majors, but how will it translate? Some interesting questions to ponder.

  5. I think Victorino is actually better utilized in RF than CF. He’s got one of the best OF arms in baseball. That being said, I think that with the way this spring is going, it will be hard to justify keeping Karim Garcia on the roster over Bourn. Of course, it may come down to Bourn, Garcia, and Dobbs fighting for one spot, in which case it seems like Dobbs would get the nod. But I think Bourn would be a valuable addition to the major league roster right now.

  6. I’m pretty sure I want Bourn to play every day–so for the start of the season at least, that means Ottawa.

    I used to be crazy about this prospect. I still think he could be an asset as a centerfielder, but you’ve identified the question: whether he draws enough walks or can hit for a high enough average to offset his near-total lack of power. Frankly, if he can deliver a .380 OBP, I don’t care if he ever gets extra-base hits–but he hasn’t shown that he can do so yet. He’s still just 24, so there’s time, but I see him competing long-term against Victorino for the CF job, and at the moment the Flyin’ Hawaiian has the edge IMO.

  7. I would like to evaluate Bourn after he plays a good chunk of
    time at AAA, maybe the whole year. I think he might have a bit
    more pop than we’re giving him credit for.

  8. I’ve hoped Bourn would develop into a Brett Butler, who never had much power at all but put up consistent OBP and stole around 40 bases for more than a decade. I don’t know how realistic that is, Butler was a pretty unique player type. Bourn hasn’t shown Butler’s level of patience and strikes out much more, but he’s a level or two ahead of where Butler was at his age (and maybe some of that is due to the different eras the two play in).

  9. According to PECOTA, the forecasting system at Baseball Prospectus, Bourn comparable players list is pretty ugly. The only guy on the list that would give us any hope is Randy Winn circa 1998, who is his 16th best comparable. Winn has had a decent career, not spectacular, and has actually become a double digit home run hitter, but his stolen base threat is nowhere near Bourn’s, at this point.

  10. When I think of comps for Bourn, I don’t think of no walk Juan Pierre. I think of another no-slug Texas born OF, Jason Tyner. Minor league career 370 OBP, 361 SLG.

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