JUPITER, Fla. -- When Peter Bourjos was playing for the Los Angeles Angels, Torii Hunter and some other teammates would occasionally debate how he might fare in a footrace against Mike Trout. The consensus was that Trout would win from home plate to first, but the longer the race, the more the odds would shift in Bourjos' favor.
During Bourjos' first month in St. Louis Cardinals camp, no one has shown much interest in challenging him to a head-to-head sprint.
"No," said fellow outfielder Matt Holliday. "But I have played him in ping-pong."
The Cardinals acquired Bourjos from the Angels in November in the David Freese trade with the idea that he would give them speed on the bases and a gifted outfielder to bridge the gap between Holliday in left and Allen Craig in right. Everything he's shown in the Grapefruit League confirms that he's the man for the job.
Nevertheless, Bourjos also wants to avoid being typecast as all wheels and glove and iffy with the bat. He has a personal mandate to do a better job of working counts, drawing walks, reducing his strikeouts and finding ways to introduce the Cardinals to his hitter-ish side.
Offense was a mixed bag during Bourjos' tenure in Anaheim. He hit .271 with 22 stolen bases and an AL-high 11 triples in 2011, but Trout's emergence put a crimp in his playing time two seasons ago, and a fractured wrist cut short his season last August.
"The last few years have been tough," Bourjos said. "I may not be a .330 hitter, but I'm definitely better than people give me credit for. One of your buddies will show you an article, and it's really nice about the defensive stuff and not so much the offensive stuff. It's one thing I've been striving for, to become a better hitter and prove people wrong."
Jon Jay, St. Louis' incumbent center fielder, graded out poorly with the glove last season and helped open the door by hitting .192 (10-for-52) in the playoffs. Although manager Mike Matheny has consistently declined to handicap the center-field competition, Bourjos is in line to collect the bulk of the at-bats, provided he doesn't flounder offensively.
As a speed player who once stole 50 bases in the minors, Bourjos loves the thought of playing in the National League. He's also high on the prospect of playing in St. Louis. Albert Pujols, his former Angels teammate, told him he would enjoy being a Cardinal, and Bourjos has quickly come to understand the tradition surrounding the team and the professional atmosphere that's ingrained in St. Louis' players.
Bourjos spent some time early in camp working on bunting with former Cardinal Willie McGee, and he's still hoping to carve out time to get a few base-stealing tips from Lou Brock in Jupiter. Most telling, Jay has been friendly and supportive even though Bourjos might eat into his playing time considerably.
"He's been awesome," Bourjos said. "I've talked to him quite a bit and he's been great. I don't know how the playing time is going to shape up this year. Whatever it is, I'll be fine with it and I'll be pulling for him. That's the environment they create here. At the end of the day it's about winning. It doesn't matter what role you have."