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Peter Bourjos: Angels Top Prospect #1

1) Peter Bourjos3/31/87 - CF, AA

.281/.354/.423 with 6 HR and 32 SB's. +7 bat, +15 glove

Ranking in a Nutshell:  Defense.  Over the past four seasons, Bourjos has contributed 14.7 wins above replacement -- second in the system only to Sean Rodriguez -- with over half of that value deriving from his fine glove work in centerfield.  Add Bourjos' steadily improving bat, and the Angels have a legitimate regular on their hands who is close to challenging for a big league job.  Given the game's increasing focus on defense, it's interesting to see how the various authorities rank his value to the Angels' system: tools-happy Baseball America has him at second in the organization, offense-focused John Sickels has him at fifth, "whore-for-upside" Kevin Goldstein has him at seventh, and Angels-connected Stephen Smith ranked him eighth for 2010.  I had a great deal of trouble placing him on this list, and it was only in the last two weeks that I ranked him at number one -- it was close, and basically came down to the stock I put in Sean Smith's TotalZone defensive metric over a four season sample size.  His glove could be that good. 

Track Record:  Bourjos has improved his offensive skill set in each professional season. In 2008, he answered questions about whether he'd hit enough by batting over .300 for most of the season. In 2009, he responded to criticism of his patience by boosting his walk rate almost 300%. Over the past three years, he has made steady progress reducing his strikeouts while improving his line drive rate against increasingly good competition. At the end of the first half, he was by far Arkansas' best hitter, raking to the tune of .309/.370/.441 in a home park that's hell on hitters. His numbers tailed off after he hurt his wrist, but he gritted through the injury despite eventually requiring surgery after the season. The one red flag to emerge from '09 was a drop-off in production against righties, down to a .258/.336/.361 line versus .364/.418/.626 against lefties. That's a new trend for him, so we'll have to keep an eye on how his splits develop in the Pacific Coast League. While his stellar glove and speed means that he can make significant contributions to the Halos from the start, even if the bat takes awhile to get going, his ability to make adjustments gives him long term offensive upside.

Win-the-Lottery-Ceiling: A glove on par with that of Darin Erstad or Franklin Gutierrez.  At the rate the bat is developing, he could match Jacoby Ellsbury's level of performance, but I think over the long run his numbers will look more like Orlando Cabrera's years with the Angels: BA's between .280 and .305, OBP's between .335 and .360, and a slugging that jumps well over .400 on occasion.  Plus, he should be adept enough to do all of the situational hitting that "Angels' Baseball" requires. Toss in the glove and 40 - 60 stolen bases, and you have a five to six win player right there, even if it doesn't show up in a crazy slash line. 

Scouting Report: (beneath the jump)

The most recent scouting reports describe 6'1", 180 lbs Bourjos as "slightly built," so it's beginning to look like he won't develop the strength necessary for the "makings of average power" that folks had projected earlier in his career.  That's ok, because not filling out will help him to keep his speed, which he uses to contribute far more to his team's win totals than a few extra homeruns would add. 

According to the TotalZone defensive metric, Bourjos has saved 31.4 runs over his peers per 150 games throughout his minor league career. Those defensive stats are relative to his minor league competition, so they're not entirely indicative of how Bourjos will stack up against major leaguers, but no one doubts that he will be a significant contributor in the field and probably the best centerfielder the Angels have had since Darin Erstad's brilliant play in the early part of the decade (no offense to Torii). Reports by baseball people back up the numbers -- Texas League managers voted Bourjos the Texas League's best defensive outfielder and most exciting player, scouts rave about his jumps and instincts, and you just know the pitchers love him.

Angels' Manager of Baseball Operations Tori Hernandez gave an interview last month where he called Bourjos, "one of the best defensive outfielders that we've ever seen, and when I say ever, I mean in the history of baseball." A few days later, Eddie Bane said in a fan chat over at another Angels' message board that folks "need to calm down on the over-the-top props" for Bourjos, and that we should settle for an "above average defender who can go get the ball, ala Devon White." Seeing as White was a historically good centerfielder, even Bane's qualifications make it clear that folks inside the organization think very highly of his glove. 

At the plate, Bourjos still has some work to do ironing out the kinks in his swing. He's already eliminated some extraneous motion in his setup over the past two years, which has helped him square up the ball more consistently. Baseball America has criticized the inconsistent balance in his stroke since 2007, and at times observed issues with opening his hips too early and "drifting" overly much towards the pitcher. Those problems have made him streaky in the past. Stephen Smith has high quality footage of his swing in 2008 here, which provides a good indication of how Bourjos looks when he's going right. At its best, his swing is compact and features good bat speed, allowing him to put together some Howie Kendrick like stretches at the plate -- he had a two-month run in 2008 where he hit .371, and in May of '09 he ran a hit streak up to 18 games. He's also a very good bunter, accruing 16 bunt singles with a 64% success rate. He has mostly gap power now, and his modest home run pop is entirely to the pull side. In 2010, his high contact style could make for some gaudy numbers in Salt Lake, but his patience is going to be the key measure of his offensive development. 

A special thanks to Stephen Smith for making high quality footage of Angels prospects available to the public, and to Sean Smith, for making his TotalZone metric freely available to the public.