Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Bourn Identity.

As spring training starts to wind down we have a good idea of what the Phillie's roster is going to look like. One guy that is sure to be in the dugout sometime this year, whether it be opening day or during the summer sometime is Michael Bourn. The 5-11 speedster from Texas actually got some playing time last season but didn't turn any heads. So far this spring training, its the exact opposite. Everybody is excited about what Bourn has been doing in Clearwater. Bourn has been working hard this spring. After being called up to the Phillie's from AAA last season, Bourn, known as being very fast, was caught stealing 3 times. This spring he has Davey Lopez helping him with his base running, and so far, it looks like its working. He's tied for 1st in runs scored, has the most triples this spring and has 5 steals thus far. Bourn is on the verge of being placed into the Phillie's outfield within the year and could eventually work his way into the lead off spot. The Phillie's feel confident enough in Bourn, that Aaron Rowand is still on the trading block.

So who is Michael Bourn? After high school, he was drafted by the Houston Astro's with the 577th pick in 2000 draft. Rather than starting his pro career straight out of high school, Bourn decided to continue his education while playing ball at the University of Houston. It turned out to be a good choice for him. He played for the Cougars for 3 seasons. During his freshman year he started all but one game. He ended the 2001 season with a .303 batting average, a .431 OBP and led the team with 35 steals and 50 walks. In 2002, Bourn started all 65 games for the Cougars. He led the team in runs with 65 and in steals for the second straight season with 32. Bourn was known as a consistent offensive threat who always found ways to get on base, and when he did, he wreaked havoc on opponents. In 2003, the Philadelphia Phillie's drafted Bourn in the fourth round with 115th pick. The Phil's gave him a $299,000 signing bonus and Bourn accepted.

Bourn's career with the Phil's started out with the Batavia Muckdogs in the NY-Penn. League. His batting average in 125 at bats was, well, just average at .280. His slugging % was at very low point also, at a measly .296. He really was not known for being a power hitter and only had one extra base hit in the 35 games he appeared in. He did have a knack for getting on base though. He had a OBP of .404 and posted 23 walks, and 23 steals. In 2004 though, a different Bourn showed up. Playing for the Lakewood Blue Claws single A Atlantic South league, he showed a difference at the plate. Bourn was giving himself a new identity. Somehow he got some power. Who knows how. Whether he started hitting the weight room or had some coaching help with his swing, he was finding a way to get more than the average single. Their was a difference at the plate. In his 413 at bats, he hit .317, with a slugging % of .429. He went from .296 to .429 in less than a year. That is a nice improvement and showed that he was willing to work hard to play better. He ended the 2004 season with 20 doubles, 14 triples, and 5 home runs. He went form having 1 extra base hit to 39 in one season. To help his cause he was posting a good SO to BB ratio, having struck out 88 times and walked 85 times. And as usual to Bourn, he was tearing up the base path with 57 steals. All in all, Bourn ended up leading the SAL in triples, walks, steals and OBP.

In 2005 the Phillie's decided they saw enough good things in Bourn that he was sent straight to the Reading Phillie's skipping Clearwater all together. Playing against tougher competition Bourn continued to show promise but struggled at times. In 135 games he batted .268 with 80 runs, 44 RBI and 38 stolen bases, and was named to the Eastern League All Star team. In 2006, Bourn would do a lot of shuffling within the Phillie's system. He started the year off with Reading Phillie's then in March was sent to AAA with the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Phillie's. Then in September, Bourn got the call that he would be joining the the Phillie's in Philadelphia. He was not a major a factor, and was only able to muster up one hit in eight at bats.

So here we are, about mid-March with opening day rapidly approaching. Michael Bourn is having a very successful spring at this point. He is getting on base at a consistent basis. He's stealing bases and scoring runs every chance he gets while being coached up by base running guru Davel Lopes and starting shortstop Jimmy Rollins. When discussing Bourn's speed Rollins had this to say, "He's much faster than I'll ever be. Some guys are fast, and other guys fly. He flies. He's talented. There's no doubt about that." Thats high praise coming from the guy who leads the Phil's in stolen bases year in, and year out. Bourn has been getting plenty of chances to learn while on the job. When asked how he was taking the advice he's receiving from coach's and player's, Bourn responded with a smile, "I have a heavy load, but it's all about learning. No matter how much of a veteran you are, you've always got something to work on. I want to keep getting better." So this season Michael Bourn will be coming a long way from his 2003 identity of the speedster with no power to the 2007 identity of, starting outfielder who can get on base and score at will. When will this identity come to fruition, time will tell.

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