Peter Bourjos was a surprise contributor for the Angels in 2010, quickly gaining notoriety for his defensive prowess. But no matter how good his glove is, he'll have to hit a lot better this season if he wants to keep his starting job. So, will Bourjos continue his development and cement his status as the Angels starting center fielder or will his weak bat earn him a ticket back to the minors?
2010 Stats: 181 AB, .204 AVG, .237 OBP, .381 SLG, 19 R, 6 HR, 15 RBI, 10 SB
2011 ZiPS Projections: 606 AB, .259 AVG, .300 OBP, .401 SLG, 89 R, 13 HR, 55 RBI, 35 SB
2011 Bill James Projections: 375 AB, .261 AVG, .304 OBP, .397 SLG, 55 R, 9 HR, 37 RBI, 27 SB
2011 Marcel Projections: 269 AB, .242 AVG, .297 OBP, .416 SLG, 33 R, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 10 SB
2011 MWaH Projections*: 445 AB, .241 AVG, .294 OBP, .388 SLG, 62 R, 8 HR, 46 RBI, 31 SB
*The MWaH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research
2010 in Review: Coming into 2010, it was no secret that the Angel organization was growing increasingly high on Peter Bourjos' potential, but even they couldn't have predicted he'd be their starting center fielder by the end of the year. Peter had been a decent offensive player in his previous minor league campaigns, but he absolutely set the Pacific Coast League on fire. The thin air in Salt Lake City probably helped Bourjos a fair amount, but it was pretty clear that was growing into a potent offensive player. That step forward with the bat and defensive struggles of the Angels outfield were all the Halos needed to give Bourjos the call up. While his hot bat clearly didn't make the trip to Anaheim with Peter, his stellar glove most definitely did. Anyone who had ever heard about Bourjos had been regaled by tales of his amazing defense, but we really had to see it to believe it and believe it we did. Bourjos quickly allayed any concerns anyone might have had about moving Gold Glover Torii Hunter to right field, as Bourjos made Torii look like Adam Dunn in the outfield by comparison. With his incredible range and Edmonds-esque flare for the dramatic catch, Bourjos injected some real excitement into Angel games that had been missing for most of the season. By season's end, Bourjos had racked up an amazing 16.0 UZR, which was the second-best UZR amongst CFs... and Peter only played in 51 games. His UZR/150 was actually 44.7, suggesting that if he'd played a full season, he had the potential to turn in the kind of defensive season that Willie Mays would have been jealous of.
Three Lingering Questions for 2011:
- What does Bourjos' defense mean to the Angels? Defense can be so often overlooked by the casual fan, but make no mistake of just how important Bourjos can be to the success of the Angels. For most of the year, the 2010 Angels were a poor defensive ballclub, especially in the outfield. But Peter Bourjos has the talent to change that almost single-handedly. Even if he is just above average, he helps the team by getting Bobby Abreu's plodding glove off the field altogether. However, if he can continue to show elite defensive skills, he'll be giving a pitching staff that is largely composed of extreme flyball pitchers a real shot in the arm as they'll have the confidence to know that Bourjos is patrolling the outfield, ready to save their hides. The question though is if the Halos value that defensive presence enough to tolerate any offensive struggles he might have, not to mention resist the urge to move Abreu back into the outfield at Bourjos' expense in favor of getting a big bat like Mark Trumbo into the lineup?
- Can Peter hit well enough to justify keeping his glove in the lineup? This is the million dollar question for Peter this year. With a lineup that badly struggled to score runs last year, the Angels can't afford to have another Mendoza Line level hitter in the lineup (since we all know Jeff Mathis isn't going anywhere). So can Peter make the adjustment to big league pitching? His minor league record always proved him to be a decent hitter for average and his .178 ISO suggests that he is capable of making solid contact against major league pitches. On the other hand, Bourjos struck out 40 times in 181 ABs while walking a paltry six times. Something has to give one way or the other and whichever way it breaks is going to determine whether Peter stays in the starting lineup or catches the first flight back to Salt Lake City.
- Will Scioscia use Bourjos' speed as a weapon? Peter's speed is a deadly weapon in the outfield, but can Mike Scioscia find a way to use it offensively? Bourjos has 30+ steal potential, but his lack of on-base skills is going to make it hard for him to find base-stealing opportunites. Scioscia has made comments about getting back to the aggressive baserunning that had been the calling card of his managerial career, so it will be up to Sosh to find a way to take advantage of Bourjos' speed on the basepaths whenever he gets the opportunity.
What to Expect in 2011: Some folks don't even want to take a chance that Bourjos will be an offensive black hole again this season, but his defense has earned him a chance to at least get a few months worth of an audition. His fast start in Spring Training is definitely cause for optimism, but the fact remains that Bourjos has always been a free-swinger and that doesn't bode well for his immediate success at the plate in the majors.
That doesn't mean that Bourjos is a lost cause though. Let's not forget that Peter turns 24 on Opening Day and has just two-thirds of a season in Triple-A experience before he made an early an unexpected leap to the majors. To me, that suggests that he still has plenty of learning curve left to travel and we all saw how quick a learner Bourjos could be with his meteoric rise through Triple-A last year. I think the Angels are thinking this way too and as such, they'll show a lot of patience with Bourjos as he experiences the ups and downs of his first full major league season. They'll keep him safely buried in the nine-hole most of the year and spell him fairly regularly to keep any of his slumps from getting too prolonged and damaging to his confidence (thus my projection of just 445 at-bats).
That .241/.294/.388 slash line will be good enough for the Angels to keep him as a regular in 2011, but he'll have to end the season on a high note, otherwise he is going to be in danger of losing his job once again due to the anticipated 2012 arrival of Mike Trout. If the Halos are high enough on Bourjos' upside, they'll give strong consideration to moving Trout to left field, otherwise, it'll be Bourjos who could be moved to either the bench or another team altogether.