Phillie fans, this is a
race few fans are following. It
does not involve the daily box scores of a Marlin win or a Braves loss. It has nothing to do with home field
advantage in the playoffs, or wild card seedings in October. Rather this is a race that involves two
contestants, young outfielders Javon Moran and Michael Bourn.
At stake is the probably future leadoff
hitter in Philadelphia. To the winner go the spoils, to the loser, either an
extended stay in the minor leagues or a trade to another organization. What
makes this race so fascinating is the way the Phils have charted the course,
almost as if they had planned it that way.
Face it, Phillie fans, Javon
Moran and Michael Bourn are not household names outside of Philadelphia. Few people outside the minor league
followers or baseball draftniks are even aware of their presence. Yet, one of them may hold the very key
to the future success of a team that seems to lack for nothing but a dependable
lead off hitter.
Close your eyes and pretend its 2007. Ace hurlers Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd and
Brett Myers lead a pitching staff that is the envy of teams from San Francisco
to New York. With sluggers Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard, Marlon Byrd and Jake Blalock, the team is well fortified
in the middle of the order. Middle
infielders Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are a fine double play combination,
while 3rd base will be a battle between youngsters Terry Jones and
While this may seem like only a dream, it certainly is more
than that to the brain trust in Philadelphia, people like Mike Arbuckle, Ed
Wade, Marti Wolever and Dallas Green.
To them, it is very much a possibility, but there was one thing
missing. In order for this machine
to operate smoothly, it needed a top of the order speedster to ignite the
engine. Enter the 2003 Amateur
Draft, when the Phils made a conscious decision to draft for speed, speed and
Although they were handicapped by the absence of first or
second round draft picks due to the free agent signings of Jim Thome and David Bell, the Phils zeroed in on three collegiate speedsters who met their
needs. In the third round, they
selected Texas Al-American second baseman, Tim Moss.
With picks in the
fourth and fifth round, they selected outfielders Michael Bourn from Houston and
Javon Moran from Auburn. The
similarities between the two were quite obvious to see. Both were 5’11” and both weighed in at
somewhere between 175-180 pounds.
Both played centerfield for top college
baseball programs, and both were noted for one outstanding trait, their almost
literal ability to fly around the base paths. The Phils felt that given their talents,
yet given the mortality rate of players attempting to make the grade from
college to the big leagues, possibly one of them would be the future leadoff
hitter with the Phils.
As mentioned at the
beginning of this story, the race has become a two-player contest at this
point. Moss, having problems with
high blood pressure, and the switch from aluminum to wooden bat, has been a
dismal failure. His average has
rarely been over .100 and has never seen the light of .200. At this point, he may well be written
off as a third round bust.
Not so, Moran or Bourn. They have excited the
Phillie organization in a way not seen since the days of Jeff Stone, a
lefty-hitting outfielder who once stole 100 bases in the minor leagues. However, while Stone was a speed demon
with incomplete baseball skills, Moran and Bourn seem to have taken to the
intricacies of professional baseball like a fish takes to water.
take a closer look at these two racers, and make a fair guess as to who will
cross the finish line and win the prize.
As mentioned, at first glance, they appear almost as twins, tall, lanky
and athletic looking. Yet, a closer examination reveals a few subtle
differences, the kind that may eventually lead to Citizens Bank
While both were born in 1982, Javon is a few months older; having
ben born on September 30 while Bourn’s birthday is December 27. Also, Moran is a right-handed hitter,
while Bourn hits from the left side.
This is a very subtle yet important difference, as Bourn is one step
closer to first base, not unimportant when discussing the value of a lead off
Another important difference between the two is their plate
discipline. While Moran seems more
of a free swinger, in the Jimmy Rollins mode, Bourn appears more patient, more
willing to take a walk. This may
well be a prime consideration when a decision is ultimately made as to who
stays, and who goes.
In college, both hit well over .300 for their
careers, yet Moran showed walk totals of only 16, 9 and 11. In 60 games at Batavia last summer, he
walked 16 times. Bourn, on the
other hand, displayed good plate patience in college, with walk totals of 50, 46
and 23 bases on balls. Though the
drop in walks every year is a bit alarming, he regained his patience at Batavia,
with 23 walks in 35 games.
Moran signed almost
immediately last June and had the luxury of playing all summer. In 60 games, he
hit .284, and stole 27 bases while being caught 11 times. Bourn was a tougher sign, and didn’t
begin playing until mid-July. This
did not stop him from stealing an eye-catching 23 bases in 35 games, while
hitting a solid .280.
Clearly, the Phils were
hopeful that they would continue their progress this year at full season
Lakewood, but no one could have foreseen what has transpired in the early going
for these two speedsters. One thing
is quite obvious… the Phils have given both players carte blanche to run at
will, and they have taken this advice literally.
With Moran batting leadoff
and Bourn hitting second, they have become a catcher’s worst nightmare, to the
tune of 21 steals in 21 attempts!
Bourn has an astounding 13 steals in 9 games, while Moran has a more
pedestrian total of 8 in 9 games.
The numbers are almost spellbinding.
In one game, they combined
for 9 stolen bases, 5 by Moran and 4 by Bourn. In another game, Bourn stole 5
bases all by himself, with Moran contributing “only” one! At this pace, Bourn will top 100 stolen
bases and Moran will be very close to the century mark.
This early race to the
finish line has made the Lakewood Blue Claws the darlings of Phillie minor
league followers. Not only have
these two players captured everyone’s fancy, but the team also features such
standout prospects as left fielder Jake Blalock, first baseman Bryan Hansen,
third baseman Kiel Fisher and starting pitchers Scott Mathieson, Joe Wilson and
Infielders Moss and
shortstop Carlos Rodriguez also grace the roster, though both are off to dismal
starts. Yet, it is the race between
Moran and Bourn that has captured the fancy of most Phillie officials. They recognize, better than most, the
value of having a solid lead off hitter to set the table for the rest of the
Indeed, any Phillie historian will instantly recognize the
necessity of a solid top of the order hitter and Phillie success in the won-lost
column. Quickly think of the best
Phillie teams of the past half-century and they were all blessed with top-notch
The Whiz Kids were led by Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn,
still considered by most as the best lead off hitter in Phillie history. It was not coincidental that as
Ashburn’s star began to fall, so did the fortunes of the Phillies.
early 60’s Manager Gene Mauch and GM John Quinn recognized the need for a lead
off hitter, and acquired one in Tony Taylor. Within two years of his acquisition, the
Phils were winning consistently, and this culminated in a near miss for a
pennant in 1964.
When Taylor’s talents
declined, so did the Phils, and it was not until the winter of 1973 did the
Phils once again have a proto type lead off hitter. Second baseman Dave Cash was brought
over from Pittsburgh to bat first, hit consistently, and show the Phils how to
win. He did all three, and by 1976,
the Phils were back in the playoffs.
Though Cash left for Montreal, Bake McBride, Lonnie Smith and
Pete Rose led the march to five playoff births, two World Series appearances and
one world title. Rose eventually
left after the 1983 season, and it was not until Lenny Dykstra was acquired from
the New York Mets in 1989 did the Phils once again fill their need for a
top-notch lead off hitter.
Dykstra suffered through
several injury plagued years, but when finally healthy in 1993, he had quite
possibly the single greatest season a lead off hitter ever had. Quite simply, his numbers were
staggering. Not only did he
score 143 runs in 161 contests, but also he had time to hit 19 home runs, steal
37 bases, and hit for a .305 average.
Not surprisingly, he was
the catalyst for one of the most exciting teams in Phillie history, one that
came within two Mitch Williams’s meltdowns of a World Championship. Equally not surprising, the downfall of
the Phils coincided with the downfall of Dykstra.
This, then, had led us to
the race between Moran and Bourn.
Oh, Manager Larry Bowa will say for public consumption that he has
confidence in lead off hitters Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins. He will point out that Byrd hit .303
last season, and that Rollins will very soon grasp the nuances of the top
spot. Don’t believe
While both Byrd and
Rollins are fine players, and important roles to play in any future success the
Phils may have, the truth is that the only legitimate lead off hitter on the
Phillie roster is one who refuses to bat first… Bobby Abreu. Byrd will eventually settle into the
middle of the order, while Rollins lack of plate discipline will forever make
him a bottom of the order hitter.
So, we cast an expectant
eye towards Lakewood, and the two speedsters involved in a race to Philadelphia.
While it is hoped that both will continue their success, the reality is that
only one can grace the outfield grass of CBP. Though equally talented, a team can only
afford the luxury of one outfielder whose primary gift is
No, the corner spots in
2007 are saved for the power bats of Burrell, Byrd, Blalock or possibly
Abreu. Only the vast reaches of
center field is saved for a jackrabbit, one Javon Moran or Michael Bourn. Though Bourn seems the more likely
candidate, the Phils will not be choosy.
They like both players, and seem prepared to let both run fast and free
until one separates himself from the other.
In the unlikely event that
the race ends in a dead heat, then the Phils will kindly take bids from teams in
need of a lead off threat. The bids
will be high, as players like Juan Pierre and Ichiro Suzuki are few and far
between. So, it certainly is in the
best interests of all concerned for the race to be a high contested one, and
with no clear winner.
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I will respond. CD from the Left
this summer, the hope is that a pennant race between the Phils, Marlins and
Braves is an exciting and fast-paced one.
Expectations are high, and the winner will be the one who can maintain
the course at optimum speed and efficiency.
Yet, in Lakewood, another
exciting and fast-paced contest will continue, one that has high stakes
ramifications for the Phillie future.
Cast your binoculars towards the two players batting first and
second. Keep a watchful eye, but
don’t blink or you may just miss them as they present a blur on their way to
stolen base records. Fellows named
Moran and Bourn.
The race is on…