Phillies

Always known for his defense, Peter Bourjos turning heads with hitting streak

Always known for his defense, Peter Bourjos turning heads with hitting streak

Peter Bourjos has never really been known for his hitting.

It's always been his fielding that has set him apart, as he’s been considered one of the best defensive centerfielders in MLB. While he’s played mostly right field for the Phillies, his fielding has remained top notch.

Yet, that’s not what has gotten him recent praise. His hitting has finally come alive, helping to fuel a recent four-game win streak.

Bourjos was batting a measly .199 coming into the month of June, but then his performance completely changed. He hit .410 (25 for 61) in June, which was the second-highest average in the majors and first in the National League. He’s pushed his season batting average up to .262, recording at least one hit in his last 10 games.

At home on Friday against the defending champion Kansas City Royals, Bourjos stretched his hit streak to double digits with a single in the bottom of the fifth. He scored on the next at-bat when Cody Asche drove him in on an RBI double to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead. The Phillies went on to an eventual 4-3 win at Citizens Bank Park (see game recap).

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said the difference in Bourjos' hitting was to just not swing the bat so hard.

“According to what I read, he just decided that he didn’t have to swing as hard, which makes a lot of sense,” Mackanin said. “It takes a lot of tension out of your body. You just go out there and react to the ball instead of trying to drive the ball.”

Mackanin mentioned how Pete Rose, who holds the record for most hits in MLB history, didn’t worry about trying to hit a home run each time, which resulted in a lot of groundball hits. He added that so few of a player’s at-bats are going to result in extra-base-hits, so just focusing on getting on base is most important.

Even though Bourjos' defense is what sets him apart, this isn’t the first time in his career he’s found himself hitting the ball well. In 2011 with the Angels, Bourjos hit .271 with 26 doubles, 11 triples and 12 home runs in 147 games. Mackanin said he’s definitely capable of replicating those numbers.

“You see when he takes batting practice he has power,” Mackanin said. “I think what happened to him over the years was he never really knew what kind of hitter he was. He has the power to hit a home run to the opposite field. He can hit 15, 20 home runs.”

Bourjos said it’s never really bothered him that he’s been branded mostly as a defensive player.

“I’ve had that label since I’ve probably signed,” Bourjos said. “It didn’t matter how well I hit in the minor leagues, it was always glove first. You can’t shake that label, it’s just there. You start going and having good at-bats, and hopefully they recognize that you’re an all-around good player.”

If his hot streak continues, Bourjos could find himself as an attractive trade piece to a playoff contender.

The non-wavier trade deadline is just one month away, and with the All-Star break even closer, teams will soon begin to determine if they need a boost in talent to make a playoff run. With the Phillies still rebuilding, they may want to capitalize on an opportunity to continue to build their farm system and deal a veteran.

The situation would be even more favorable for the Phillies considering Bourjos, 29, is playing on just a one-year deal. And taking advantage of this red-hot streak could be something to consider.

However, Bourjos says he’s unsure if that’ll happen.

“I’m not too sure about that, that’s a question for other general managers,” he said. “Obviously, I just want to go out and play as well as I can for this team, and hopefully I’m here the whole year.”

NL East departures of Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon are like a free-agent signing for Phillies

NL East departures of Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon are like a free-agent signing for Phillies

A lot happened across baseball last week, so much in fact that a $92 million contract was kind of overlooked.

Josh Donaldson signed early in the week with the Minnesota Twins. Four years, $92 million for the 34-year-old third baseman who returned to an All-Star-level in 2019 with the Braves. Donaldson went to Atlanta last offseason on a one-year, $23 million deal and proved his health, hitting .259 with a .900 OPS, 37 homers, 94 RBI and 100 walks. He's always been a plus defender and last season was no exception.

This is a big loss for the Braves, and you have to say their offseason looks worse in light of losing Donaldson. They were active early, signing Cole Hamels, lefty reliever Will Smith, righty reliever Chris Martin and catcher Travis d'Arnaud.

But the loss of Donaldson negates most, if not all of that. 

The Braves are still probably a playoff team — 88 or so wins feels right for this team. 

Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. are still MVP-caliber players. Ozzie Albies, Mike Soroka and Max Fried are good, young players. At third base, the Braves can use 23-year old Austin Riley or 26-year-old Johan Camargo. 

Riley's first 30 games as a rookie last season were so impressive — he hit .298, slugged .628, went deep 11 times and drove in 32 runs. It was a nightmarish, swing-and-miss-filled season for him after that. 

Camargo, you'll recall, was productive in 2018. It was his first full season and he hit .272/.349/.457 with 19 homers and 76 RBI. Most teams would take that at third base. The Donaldson signing by Atlanta last offseason was a surprise because of what the Braves had at the hot corner. There are worse third base situations than Riley/Camargo.

Still, Donaldson is such a difference-maker. Another difference-maker who has left the division. The exits of Donaldson and Anthony Rendon are huge plusses for the Phillies and Mets. It's tough to conceptualize it, but not having to face Donaldson and Rendon is almost as beneficial as a one more solid free-agent signing for the Phillies. The drop-off from those two third basemen to Riley/Camargo in Atlanta and Starlin Castro/Asdrubal Cabrera in Washington is massive. Like, maybe 50 fewer extra-base hits.

Donaldson and Rendon had 145 combined plate appearances last season against the Phillies. Rendon hit .353 with a 1.102 OPS in his. Donaldson hit six homers, four doubles and drove in 16 runs in his 18 games.

All told, the NL East (aside from the Phillies) lost more than it gained this offseason. Out are Donaldson, Rendon and Dallas Keuchel. In are Hamels and Smith in Atlanta; Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha in New York; Will Harris, Castro and Eric Thames in Washington; Corey Dickerson in Miami.

Aaron Nola will not miss facing Donaldson and Rendon. Those two hit a combined .345/.456/.545 with four homers and three doubles in 68 plate appearances against the Phillies' top starter. 

Donaldson is also 9 for 16 lifetime against Zack Wheeler, 6 for 14 with five extra-base hits off Zach Eflin and 4 for 12 with three homers vs. Nick Pivetta.

Rendon is 11 for 21 with four homers and 10 RBI off Pivetta.

Phillies fans may be frustrated by the post-Wheeler/Didi Gregorius period of the offseason, but Phillies pitchers are cool with how it's played out.

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Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Every one of the 15 minor-league prospects that the Phillies have invited to big-league spring training camp has a story.

Zach Warren’s is unique because (in his heart) he was a Phillie before he was technically a Phillie.

Warren grew up in Vineland, New Jersey, in the “glory era,” as he correctly called it, when the Phillies were racking up National League East titles, going to two World Series and winning one of them. Young Zach rooted for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, but his eye always drifted toward the work being done by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, not surprising because Warren was a left-handed pitcher on the rise in those days.

After successful runs at St. Augustine Prep in South Jersey and the University of Tennessee, Warren is still a pitcher on the rise. Three strong seasons in the Phillies’ minor-league system earned him an invite to major-league spring training camp next month in Clearwater.

At the Phillies’ prospect-education seminar last week at Citizens Bank Park, Warren recalled the pinch-me moment when he got the phone call from Josh Bonifay, the Phillies director of player development, telling him he’d been invited to big-league camp, and following up that thrilling news with a phone call to his dad, Geoff.

“I had dropped off my car to be worked on in Vineland the day before,” Zach recalled with a laugh, “and my dad was a little unhappy because it was dirty and had no gas. I told him the news and that cheered him up.”

Warren, 23, is one of a handful of left-handed relievers coming to big-league camp on non-roster invites. Most, if not all, will open the season in the minor leagues, but team officials, including new manager Joe Girardi and new pitching coach Bryan Price, clearly want to get a look at what they have for future reference. The Phillies, under general manager Matt Klentak, have been aggressive running relievers in and out from the minors so it’s likely several of these relievers will get a shot in the majors this season. And if they throw strikes and get outs – well, they’ll stick around.

Warren, 6-5 and 200 pounds, was selected in the 14th round of the 2017 draft. He features a mid-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup. He has racked up double-digit strikeouts-per-nine innings in each of his three pro seasons. He spent the last two seasons working late in the game, including closer, at Lakewood and Clearwater. In 116 2/3 innings the last two seasons, he allowed just 76 hits and 34 earned runs (2.62 ERA) while striking out 180 and walking 66.

The 2020 season will be a prove-it one for Warren. He projects to make the jump to Double A Reading and be an important part of that club’s bullpen. Double A is the level where they separate the men from the boys. Have success at the level and you can rise quickly to the majors.

“I’m not thinking too far in advance, where I’m going to be and things like that,” said Warren, showing a healthy perspective. “All I can control is working on what I need to work on to get better and becoming the best player I can be. My ideal blueprint for this season is to make strides and get better and help my team win games and get to the playoffs.”

First-timers in big-league camp are like sponges. They soak up the experience and try to learn from the players who’ve walked the miles they hope to one day walk. Warren has a healthy respect for Adam Morgan, another lefty reliever and SEC product from the University of Alabama, and is eager to speak with him.

“I want to learn from Adam Morgan,” Warren said. “He was up as a starter and had to go to the minors to learn, adapt and change, and he developed and got back. I think there’s a ton I could learn from someone like that.

“I’m just looking forward to learning from everybody. I think it’s going to be a great experience and I can’t wait to get down there and get going.”

With a clean car and a full tank of gas, of course.

 

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