While it may seem odd to focus at this time on a fly-chaser with a mere
35 at bats and not yet 10 hits on the season, instinct and reason
speak to the fact that sooner rather than later, rookie outfielder
Michael Bourn will become a valued member of the Phillie starting
lineup. Perhaps not within the month, but probably before the end of
The signs are everywhere, and as the whispers get louder and louder of
potential moves involving either Pat Burrell or Aaron Rowand, the
apparent winner when the dust settles will be the young Mr. Bourn, a
player the Phils have valued almost since they drafted him in the
fourth round out of the University of Houston in the June 2003 draft.
In perhaps the clubs weakest draft since the turn of the century, the
Phils are counting on Bourn and right-hander, Kyle Kendrick, to
provide some semblance of return on what also featured such
forgettable players as Tim Moss, Matt Linder and Jason Crosland.
Still, should Bourn eventually become the player the team envisions
him becoming, and should the righty Kendrick continue his progress
through the system, the '03 draft will have been spared much disdain
Much was made of the fact that Michael Bourn made the major league
club out of spring training after less than half a season in Triple-A
during the 2006 campaign. Equally confusing to many were the reasons
that the Phils felt compelled to keep Bourn on the major league
roster. Other than as a speedy pinch-runner and an occasional late
inning defensive assignment for Burrell in the outfield, Bourn has
spent much of the first third of the season doing little else.
Yet, the Phils have been impressed with his base stealing ability [9-for-9 on the basepaths] and he has shown outstanding range and defensive skill in the outfield. Although he has started less than a handful of games as the leadoff hitter, he has also displayed a solid batting eye and an ability to score when he gets on base.
Much like the team he plays for however, Michael Bourn has shown the
disquieting trend of turning on a dime, one moment wowing the club
with his athleticism and skill and in another moment frustrating them
with his lack of concentration and base running wisdom.
Twice in one week, against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Bourn's lack of
base running knowledge cost the Phils dearly. In the first game, he
slowed down heading for second base on what he thought was a game
ending ground ball to first base. When the ball went through the
first baseman's legs, Bourn attempted to turn on the afterburners but
was eventually held at third base.
The final out came moments later and the Phils had lost by one run, a
run Bourn might have scored had he been running hard from the moment
the ground ball was hit. Instead, his indecision caused him to stop
at third base, and the Phils lost a valuable game.
Two nights later he was on second base in the ninth inning of a one
run game with slugger Ryan Howard at the plate. The Phils trailed 4-3
but had only one out and seemingly the right man at the plate. The
D'backs played Howard the way most teams do, with an exaggerated shift
towards right field.
Everyone seemed to notice this shift except Bourn and when Howard
rifled a ball directly at an infielder he was off with the swing of
the bat. The problem was that the shift had caused the line drive to
head directly at a D'back infielder, positioned perfectly due to the
shift. Bourn was easily doubled off second base and the Phils had
lost another tough game.
Still, Bourn performs much like the team he plays for, and two nights
later he made a sparkling defensive gem in left field to save a
victory for lefty Cole Hamels. This catch was certainly worthy of web
gem mention and helped the Phils end a 4 game losing streak, a streak
that Bourn had helped start with his poor baserunning.
The Michael Bourn story began when the Phillies selected him in the
fourth round of the 2003 amateur draft after he had performed well but
not spectacularly during his three year career at the University of
Houston. A natural left handed hitter, Bourn had fashioned collegiate
batting averages of .303, .328 and .330 during his three seasons at
These numbers hardly stand out in the collegiate game nowadays, what
with the advent of smaller parks and aluminum bats, but the Phils were
impressed with his strike zone knowledge and fell quickly in love with
his speed, defense and ability to bat first in the order.
He signed quickly and began the steady and often spectacular climb
through the Phillie system. His rookie season at Batavia saw him
steal 23 bases in a mere 35 games and he improved on this during his
second professional season with 57 stolen bases and a stellar .317
batting average at Lakewood. This was the season that the Phils began
to suspect they had a future major leaguer in their midst.
Much like they had done in previous seasons, most notably with star
second baseman Chase Utley, the Phils decided to challenge the 22 year
old Bourn with a double jump from Low Full-Season A ball to Double-A
Reading for the 2005 season. Predictably enough, Bourn had the typical
up and down campaign that often accompanies a jump of this nature.
Oh, there were the 38 stolen bases, rifle arm in the outfield and a
workman like 135 games in the outfield. He even hit an acceptable
.268 though the team was privately hoping for a bit more given his
outstanding speed. And, there were the weaknesses to his game to
suggest that he was not yet ready for the bright lights of Broadway.
Most alarmingly, Michael Bourn struck out a staggering 123 times at
Reading in 2005 and for a leadoff hitter, this number is completely
unacceptable. His walk totals began to slip a bit also. Always
considered a patient hitter at the plate, Bourn instead to swing
recklessly at times, contributing in large part to the high strikeout
When the organization’s players reported to spring training in February
of 2006 it was widely expected that Bourn would receive another
promotion, this time to Triple-A at Scranton. Instead the Phils made
it clear to the speedy outfielder that he would have to return to
Reading earn his right to move up to Triple-A.
Angry and confused, he struggled for nearly six weeks before snapping
out of it and finally earned the promotion to Triple-A for the final
38 games of the season. In all, his average improved at Scranton to
.283 and his baserunning continued to be one of the best part of his
game. In all, he stole 45 bases and was expected to use this late
push to help him improve at Triple-A this year.
Quite frankly, few people within the Phillie system expected him to
make the big club out of spring training. After all, Pat Burrell,
Aaron Rowand and Shane Victorino had the starting spots wrapped up and
over the winter the Phils had signed free agents Jayson Werth and
Karim Garcia. Both were expected to make the team out of spring.
Surprisingly, the Phils elected to keep Bourn on the 25 man major
league roster and let go of Garcia, a veteran who had recently
returned from a two year stint in Japan. This might have provided a
tiny insight into just how highly they rate Michael Bourn and just how
much they think he can help them with their hoped for pennant push
over the summer.
Clearly, the Phils would like to eventually find a spot for Bourn in
the starting lineup and when this happens, watch for him to soon
replace shortstop Jimmy Rollins in the leadoff spot. He is a natural
born leadoff hitter and could eventually steal 50 bases a season given
the encouragement that new coach Davy Lopes has instilled in the
Phillie baserunners this year.
Watch for the Phils to try and move either Burrell or Rowand at the
trading deadline on July 31 and if and when this happens, watch for
Bourn to slide comfortably into the starting outfield. Anything less
than this would almost make a mockery of the Phils decision to keep
him on the big league roster, given his relative inexperience at the
Another factor to consider is that teams almost always believe it is
better for a young talent like Bourn to play regularly in the minor
leagues than toil only occasionally in the big leagues. The Phils are
no exception when it comes to this belief system and have said so many
The fact that they felt it more essential for Bourn to learn from the
likes of Lopes, Rollins and Victorino speaks volumes about how the
Phils see his skills and how quickly they will probably translate into
the Phillie lineup. Yet, for this to happen, either an injury must
occur to one of the Phils current starting outfielders or a trade for
Burrell or Rowand must take place soon.
Interestingly enough, both names have been mentioned recently in trade
talks and it does seem likely that those talks will increase rather
than decrease as the July 31 deadline quickly approaches. In fact,
the Phils must soon decide whether or not to be buyers or sellers once
June turns to July and given their peripatetic ways this year, it
might not be easy to decipher whether the team is headed up or down
when July comes.
If ever there was a team that seemingly enjoyed the daily rides of a
Roller coaster it would appear to be this years Philadelphia Phillies.
Truth be told, one rarely knows whether they are coming or going when
it comes to a ride on the Phillie Express, a vehicle that almost
interchangeably shifts gears and directions at the drop of a hat.
The same club that went into enemy territory in both Atlanta and New
York and came out with three-game sweeps of both the Braves and Mets is
also the team that allowed a young Diamondback team to sweep them in
Philadelphia during the same period. Clearly, this is a team with a
split personality and the prevailing feeling is becoming more obvious
with each triumph or defeat...this is a team that is more suited to
play on the road than at Citizens Bank Park.
The reasons are not so obvious, though theory and conjecture are
worthy of report. For one thing, the Phils remain a fairly thin
skinned group of players and Philadelphia is no place to wear your
skin thin. The team almost always appears tightly wound and
uncomfortable when playing in front of the home crowd and pitchers
seem to throw with less confidence at CBP.
This is undoubtedly due to the perception, if not complete reality,
that the Phils new playpen is a pitchers worse nightmare and a hitters
greatest delight. Seasonal statistics tend to disprove this theory
but in the greatest Phillie example of perception becoming reality,
the baseball world has viewed the teams new stadium as somewhat of a
travesty. Phan friendly? Indeed. Great sightlines? Absolutely!
Short fences? Without a doubt!
This continuing vexation with the stadium perception has caused the
Phils to continue their practice of drafting young hurlers whenever
possible. Last season, they used their top amateur pick to select
high school pitching phenom, Kyle Drabek and this past week they made
another Texas hurler, lefty Joe Savery, their top pick. Savery is the
latest pitching phenom from the University of Rice and may begin his
professional career as a relief pitcher.
Yet, as poorly as the team plays at home, they play equally well on
the road. On foreign turf they appear loose, confident and relaxed and
it is well known that a baseball player will perform best when he is
feeling all of the above. How this will eventually translate for the
Phils remains to be seen, but the feeling persists that should the
team make a run at the National League East title this summer, Michael
Bourn will become one of their primary runners.
The reasons for the potential moving of Burrell or Rowand are as
diverse as they are logical. In Pat Burrell's case, the Phils have
finally become completely frustrated with his inability to improve his
hitting techniques after far too many seasons of trying. Perhaps no
player currently on the clubs roster could more quickly help to turn
around the teams fortunes than Pat Burrell.
A power-hitting right-hander in the middle of a lineup dominated by
lefties like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, Burrell would command an
imposing presence should he ever return to the form of his early
seasons with the Phightins'. Unfortunately for both he and the team,
this may never occur in Philadelphia and there are now rumblings that
for the first time since he signed with the Phils back in the Summer
of '98, he might be agreeable to a trade. Stay tuned.
In the case of Aaron Rowand, this has more to do with his impending
free agency than anything else. Clearly, the Phils cannot decide
whether or not to re-sign the popular centerfielder and with each
passing day that option appears more remote. It does not help the
team’s chances that Rowand is currently enjoying a banner season
offensively and will likely be wooed by several teams during the off-season, most notably the Chicago White Sox.
In fact, this is still the team that is most often mentioned when
discussions about Aaron Rowand deals come to print. The Phils still
seem intent on obtaining relief help if possible and names like righty
Mike MacDougal and lefties Boone Logan and Matt Thornton continue to
make the rounds. In any event, dealing either Rowand or Burrell will
free the Phils to start Michael Bourn in the outfield.
Of course, should this happen, the club will need to address the
notion that with both Bourn and Shane Victorino in the outfield the
team is likely to have the least powerful flychasers in baseball, even
if Burrell remains with the club. Rowand, at least, is capable of
15-20 home runs while Bourn will hit perhaps 4-5 in a good season.
Victorino is a tad more powerful than that, but not much.
Nonetheless, the team has considered the possibility of moving current
leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins down in the order and this might
transpire should Bourn become the starting center fielder. The Phils
might well envision a top of the order with Bourn and Victorino as the
top two table setters for the more powerful strokes of Mssrs. Utley,
Howard, Burrell and Rollins. Perhaps.
As the Phils continue their unpredictable ride to who knows where this
season, the ongoing tide of the team continues to turn. It will
surprise no one if either Freddy Garcia or Jon Lieber are moved before
the trade deadline and, given the announced signing of ancient
reliever Jose Mesa to a contract, the team might decide that returning
former ace Brett Myers to the rotation isn't such a bad idea after all.
Rumors also continue to persist that current General Manager Pat Gillick may soon become the president of the Seattle Mariners, a move
that could leave the Phils in a complete state of flux. Gillick
recently bought a home in Seattle and despite repeated denials, this
is a story that appears to have legs. Should he leave, watch for
Asst. GM Ruben Amaro to replace him.
Still, those are discussions for another day, as are the eventual
prospects of stardom for one Michael Bourn, rookie
outfielder-in-waiting with the Philadelphia Phillies. His eventual
place among the stars in the National League remains to be seen, but
regardless of his spot on the charts, one thing will continue to
What remains clear is that Michael Bourn will use his legs and speed
to both frustrate and fascinate his team and future opponents because
in the end this is a baseball player who was...Bourn to run.
Columnist's Note: Please e-mail all questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast.