One would think that if a team possessed a talented player like Michael Nelson Trout, his spot in the lineup, and where he roams the outfield, would be a foregone conclusion for years to come. That it would take a caliber of player never before seen in the game to move him out of his natural position. Peter Bourjos is not that player. In all reality, Mike Trout in 2013 might not be able to move the 2012 version of Mike Trout. But, it speaks volumes of the defensive presence Bourjos brings to the Angels outfield that Mike Scioscia is willing to move what is looking like a generational talent to a corner outfield spot to make room for Speedy Petey.
Drafted out of high school in 2005, Bourjos’ speed quickly took center stage. He would be named the Fastest Base Runner in the system from 2005 through 2009, and went straight to being named the 24th best prospect, per Baseball America, in the Angels system in 2005. Until being called up for good in 2010, and famously moving nine time gold glove winner Torii Hunter to right field, Bourjos would be a fixture in the Angels top prospect rankings. He ranked 12th in 2006, ninth in 2007, third in 2008 and second in 2009, coming in right behind Nick Adenhart on the Angels top 10 prospects. And his famous speed, as well as defensive prowess, was not winning awards being exclusively handed out by the Angels. From 2008 through 2010 he would take home Best Base Runner and Best Defensive Outfielder in each of the leagues he played in. Are you starting to see a trend here?
After putting up a career Minor League slash line of .293/.347/.454, Bourjos was brought up for good playing 51 games at the end of the 2010 season with the big club. He didn’t hit much putting up a .204/.237/.381 slash line, but he was second in the AL with 10 assists and was first in Total Zone Runs as a center fielder. In a third of a season, Peter Bourjos had cemented himself as an elite center fielder with unmatched range, and an incredibly strong right arm. In 2011 he hit more, putting up a respectable .271/.327/.438 line, and accrued a bWAR of 4.8 (Baseball-Reference WAR). Runners stopped challenging him and he was third in the AL with only four errors. He was now a fixture in the Angels’ lineup and outfield, and it was going to be that way for years to come. At least, that’s how it looked.
Mike Trout had a season for the ages in 2012, and far be it for me to be upset about him usurping Peter Bourjos in center field. Bourjos’ hitting dipped to a .220/.291/.315 slash line, and he logged only 501.2 innings, or 40% of what he played in 2011. He walked more, which in my opinion is essential for him. Peter needs to get on base as much as possible so that his speed can do its job. Mostly being used as a defensive replacement in the late innings, it became more apparent just how important his defense was to this team. Think about this, he would come in for Mark Trumbo, but he would move Mike Trout to left field. The same Mike Trout who should’ve won a Gold Glove for his stellar defensive play made way for Bourjos when he entered the game. Let that sink in. But, that was the lone highlight of 2012 for Bourjos. The season was, in all reality, a lost campaign for the young player who spent most of it on the bench fending off sunflower seed attacks, splinters and trade rumors.
What to expect in 2013
In 2013, Bourjos will once again be the Opening Day center fielder (which is in 62 days, but who’s keeping track) moving Trout to left field and being flanked to the right by Josh Hamilton creating one of the most heralded outfields in the game today. ZiPS projects that Bourjos will put up a .248/.302/.396 slash line with a declining strikeout rate and walk rate in 2013. I think that line is pessimistic, but that line coupled with elite defense will still be worth between 3 and 4 wins. Many fans scoff at the idea of having a “Reggie Willits” or “Jeff Mathis” type of hitter being in the lineup every day, but both of those comparisons are unfair to Bourjos. Willits had no power, zero, zip, zilch. Bourjos has surprising power, and could put up 20 home runs a season with his swing. Jeff Mathis couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a (expletive deleted) boat *crosses off mandatory Bull Durham quote that should be used in every post*, and was not on the same level as Bourjos defensively. ZiPS suggest that what Bourjos brings to the table is on par with Shane Victorino, which I think is a swing and miss. He’s more like a Michael Bourn lite, or tall. Less on base abilities than Bourn, but more power and ridiculous speed.
In case of emergency, break glass
Breathing down Bourjos’ neck, and waving a wad of rolled up one hundred dollar bills is Vernon Wells. Wells won’t play center field should Bourjos hit so bad that his removal from the lineup is warranted, that will be Mike Trout. But in essence, his lineup spot will be filled by Vernon Wells. And that could be the hardest thing for Papa Scioscia to resist in 2013. He simply can’t help himself when it comes to playing veterans, and should Bourjos hit even a minor skid, the temptation to yank him from the lineup and insert Wells could be too much for him to bare.
I don’t expect big things offensively from Bourjos in 2013. As mentioned earlier, if he puts up the ZiPS projected slash line, he will still be an incredibly valuable asset to a team that sports a rotation that is filled to the brim with fly ball pitchers. Being realistic with Bourjos where his offensive contributions are concerned is vital when discussing what Peter will do in 2013. He’s not a .300 hitter, he’s not going to walk a whole lot, and he will strike out a bit. It is not fair however to not expect him to show continued improvement in one very important area. His walk rate, which has gone up each year since being promoted to the show going from 3.1% in 2010 up to 7.7% last year. A commendable accomplishment considering the sporadic playing time that he received in 2012.
Historically, up the middle players have been of the light hitting variety, Bourjos is no exception. But the continued upward trend in his on base abilities will force pitchers to bring the ball into the strike zone more. If all the cards were to come up aces for Petey, It is absolutely possible that he could put together a season like the one Curtis Granderson put together in 2007 (20+ home runs, 20+ triples, 20+ doubles and 20+ stolen bases). But for all of the potential that rests in Bourjos’ bat, it’s his defensive ability that mandates that Scioscia not only put him in the lineup, but keep him there. Regardless of how bad he is doing at the plate.