Peter Bourjos' Rapid Rise to Angels Not Just a Glove Story
Bourjos, 23, made his major league debut for the Angels Tuesday. He did so against the Orioles, the organization his father Chris, a scout with more than 20 years of experience, just so happened to start working for this season. And he did so at the expense of Torii Hunter, a nine-time Gold Glove winner, who was pushed to right field so he could patrol center.
No pressure, kid.
"When I told [my dad about getting called up], he started laughing," Bourjos told FanHouse Wednesday.
Bourjos was summoned to the majors in large part because of his defense. He is as fast as, well, anyone around, and his lightning-fast legs were on display at Camden Yards this week as he zipped from gap to gap and even managed to record an assist.
"I think this guy ... can go get 'em, and I think that's what we're looking for on the defensive end, especially with our pitching staff," Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said. "There's gonna be a lot of balls that are gonna be run down out there, and I think he's gonna be the focus of that."
Added manager Mike Scioscia: "He's as good as any young player coming up on the defensive side in center field, and we'll get him to swing offensively, too."
OK, we get it, Bourjos is in the big leagues -- filling Torii Hunter's sizable shoes -- because of his glove, and because the Angels' outfield alignment with the plodding Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu on the corners had become untenable for a franchise that is about sterling defense as much as it is boldness on the basepaths.
The Angels' defensive efficiency -- the percentage of balls in play turned into outs -- of .685 ranks 22nd in the majors, according to Baseball Prospectus, and Bourjos is mainly supposed to help change that.
Only, it can't be all about the glove can it?
Not with the way Bourjos, who in past seasons hit just enough to keep moving up the minor-league ladder with his superb defense, exploded offensively this season.
Not with the Pacific Coast League record three triples in one game in April. Not with the staggering 56 hits and 37 runs he racked up in July, also PCL records for a single month.
"I've been staying up the middle really well and putting the ball in play," Bourjos said of his recent hot streak. "A lot of good things have been happening. I never dreamed I'd have a month like that, and then to top it off I get called up after."
Bourjos isn't being asked to be do much in the Angels lineup -- Scioscia inserted him into the ninth spot in the batting order the last three days -- but he's still being asked to hit major league pitching, a request that would have seemed like a tall order last season, or even a couple of months ago.
His surprising rise to the majors, at least offensively, began over the winter with roving minor-league instructor Eric Owens, who got Bourjos "pretty locked in," and continued during spring training with Hatcher, who developed a program that included plenty of soft toss from the side in the batting cage.
The idea was to lengthen Bourjos' swing.
"I think a lot of times I had a tendency to shorten [it]," he said.
Bourjos, a right-handed hitter, was actually coming through the zone too quickly, perhaps concerned about getting jammed, and as a result he wasn't able to be the gap-to-gap hitter the Angels wanted him to be.
Explained Hatcher: "He had a tendency to get in and out of the zone a little quick. [We wanted him] just staying more to right field, and, with his work habits, really getting backspin and getting a lot of groundballs and staying through the middle. ... He's quick inside. I don't think he's had a problem getting to a pitch inside, but a lot of it is just staying out there in the big part of the park."
And the plan worked.
Bourjos hit well in spring training. He even flashed a little power, no small achievement for a player who, until this season, hadn't slugged above .450 since Rookie Ball in 2006. After getting assigned to Salt Lake, Bourjos' roll continued with a .306 average in April.
Then came May, and a .247 average, followed by an even worse June swoon, in which he hit .230.
"Peter has a tendency to wander a little, listen to a lot of people and change [his swing], so we're trying to get more consistency in his work habits," Hatcher said, explaining Bourjos' May-June slump. "Well, at the start of the season, right away, he started struggling a little bit, got away from it, had a talk with [Triple-A hitting coach Jim] Eppard, ... got back to what he was doing in spring training and he stuck with it."
And here he is, in the major leagues.
Bourjos always had the glove to get to the big leagues, but his rapid offensive evolution made him impossible to ignore.
"I think right now we need him on base, we need him getting base hits. This guy is so fast that I think when you see him run the bases, he's exciting," Hatcher said.
Sounds a lot like the prototype the Angels look for in an outfielder.
Bourjos agreed: "They like to steal bases. They like to play small-ball. Hopefully I can help out."