Thursday, February 17, 2011
Waiting for Peter Bourjos' bat, the Angels bank on his glove
By Mark Saxon
One of the keys to this Angels season will be whether Peter Bourjos can hit well enough to stay in the lineup.
It’s not that the Angels so desperately need his offense, but that they have built their off-season model around his defense. The team feels Bourjos, who is among the fastest players in the league, could become one of the best center fielders in the game. They would prefer to use two converted center fielders, Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells, in the corners.
The only problem: Bourjos batted .204 with 40 strikeouts in 181 at-bats late last year.
Nobody is rooting harder for Bourjos than Angels pitcher Jered Weaver, who probably watched more harmless fly balls turn into hits last year than any pitcher in baseball.
“It’s awesome,” Weaver said of the Angels reconfigured outfield. “We’ve got, what, 12 Gold Gloves out there on the corners and a Gold Glover in the making in center? Me being a fly ball pitcher, it’s going to be fun to see those guys run around out there.”
"Fun" wasn't a word Weaver often used to describe last year's Angels outfield. Despite leading baseball with 233 strikeouts and putting up borderline Cy Young-caliber numbers, Weaver won just 13 games. The primary explanation was paltry run support. The second was bad outfield defense.
At the end of last July, Hunter walked into manager Mike Scioscia’s office and suggested the team recall Bourjos from Triple-A Salt Lake. Hunter, who had won nine straight Gold Gloves, offered to move to right. By then, Hunter had exhausted his legs trying to catch balls Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu either couldn't or didn't try to reach.
Hunter, who arrived at Angels camp Wednesday – three days before he’s required to show up – said Bourjos has the potential to be a star center fielder. At this stage, it’s still just potential.
“Defensively, he’s got things to work on. It doesn’t look like it, because he’s so fast, but he does,” Hunter said. “He has some angles, pitchers’ tendencies, different things, he has to learn. But he’s going to get better and he’s going to be one of the best in the game if he gets it.”