When the Angels traded for Gold Glove centerfielder Vernon Wells two months ago, Peter Bourjos figured he was on his way back to the minors. Because while the team loved Bourjos' defense -- so much so, they moved Torii Hunter, another Gold Glove centerfielder, to right field to make room for Bourjos -- the 23-year-old rookie had hit just .204 in 51 big-league games. Then he followed that up with an equally anemic winter, hitting .207 in 24 games in the Dominican league.
Wells, on the other hand, is a .280 lifetime hitter coming off the third 30-homer season of his career.
But the Angels remain committed to speedy Bourjos, who will be flanked by Wells in left and Hunter in right on opening day, giving the team potentially one of the best defensive outfields in recent memory. Still, Bourjos concedes he'll also have to contribute offensively if the experiment is to succeed.
"As long as you’re getting on base and you’re having productive at-bats -- whether it’s moving guys, getting guys in and getting on base and scoring runs -- that’s all part of it," he said. "Obviously you want to hit and have a good batting average. But I think if your outs are productive outs, moving runners, I think that can also be a benefit."
Bourjos has hit this spring, batting .320 in 25 at-bats. But he's also scored seven times, driven in five runs and stole two bases. Plus he's bunting a lot more, a skill that will open up holes in the infield and make him more difficult to defend against.
"I want to make sure that third baseman’s in and the first baseman’s in. And if they don’t come in, hopefully I’m able to lay a good bunt down and get a hit out of it," said Bourjos, a .293 career hitter in five minor league seasons. "I want to be successful at getting on base and scoring runs and stealing bases at a high rate. And then getting in scoring position for the guys to drive me in."
But even outs, the 23-year-old Bourjos has learned, can be productive.
"If you have a good at-bat, a long at-bat, a battle and you get them to throw seven, eight pitches, you wear them down a little bit and maybe he leaves a pitch over for the next guy," he said.
Which is why statistical metrics, such as batting average or on-base percentage, won't be the only thing the Angels will use to judge Bourjos' contribution, Manager Mike Scioscia said.
"If we’re seeing good swings, we’re seeing him hit the ball hard, we’re seeing some of the situational at-bats, we’re seeing him work counts, we’re seeing him contribute offensively, hopefully that’s going to carry over into the season and we’ll see the same thing," he said.
-- Kevin Baxter in Tempe, Ariz.