To score in baseball, you have to come home. Speedster Michael Bourn has been highly successful at doing just that -- in more ways than one.
Despite taking a circuitous route through the Philadelphia Phillies farm system, the Houston native and former University of Houston Cougar came home to the Astros as part of the trade that sent Brad Lidge to the Phillies in late 2007. In 2009, Bourn led the National League with 61 stolen bases, led the Astros with 97 runs scored and was named the club's MVP by the Houston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Originally selected out of Houston's Nimitz High School by the Astros in the 19th round of the 2000 Draft, Bourn instead accepted a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Houston. In his first season there he set school records for steals, walks and runs scored by a freshman. He went on to steal 90 bases in 171 games over three seasons with the Cougars before signing with the Phillies, who had chosen him with their fourth-round pick in the 2003 Draft.
Assigned to the Phillies' Class A Short-Season New York-Penn League affiliate in Batavia, N.Y., the 20-year-old Bourn made a speedy transition to professional baseball. In just 35 games with the Muckdogs, Bourn stole 23 bases -- fifth-most in the NYPL -- while batting .280 and reaching base at a .404 clip. Though displaying essentially no power -- he mustered just one extra-base hit, a triple, during the campaign -- Bourn was quickly carving out a role as a terror on the basepaths.
The following year at Class A Lakewood, Bourn served notice that he could do more than run, upgrading his role to that of top prospect. At Kannapolis on Opening Day, he singled twice, walked twice, stole three bases, scored twice and drove in a pair of runs. In mid-May the hitherto-powerless BlueClaws outfielder doubled in four consecutive games before clouting his first professional home run in a five-RBI effort at Lake County on May 25. He ultimately hit five homers and drove in 53 runs while batting .317 in his first full professional season.
Six years later, Bourne's manager in Lakewood, P.J. Forbes, still recalls the huge strides he made during the 2004 season.
"He actually started off kind of slowly -- I think he had a quad or hamstring injury -- but then a month or so into the season, everything started clicking and his confidence just grew. He did everything for us that year -- setting the table, stealing bases, driving in runs, you name it."
Bourn not only led the South Atlantic League in stolen bases in 2004 with 57, but also paced the circuit in triples (14) and walks (85). His .433 on-base percentage ranked second in the league and his 92 runs scored was tied for fifth.
"We want kids to learn how to run the bases on their own at that level -- learn when to run and when not to -- so [Bourn] had a green light," said Forbes, currently the manager of the Class A Advanced Bradenton Marauders in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. "But he already got it."
Bourn was caught stealing just six times in 63 attempts and grounded into a single double play in 109 games. Following his breakout campaign with the BlueClaws, Baseball America ranked Bourn among the Phillies' top 10 prospects.
Jumping past Class A Advanced straight to Double-A Reading to start the 2005 season, the 22-year-old Bourn's offense suffered in comparison to his Sally League exploits, but he continued to develop other parts of his game. Though his strikeout total swelled to 123 in 135 games and his batting average dipped to .268, Bourn finished fourth in the Eastern League with 38 stolen bases and 63 walks and ranked seventh with 80 runs scored. Perhaps more importantly, he led the league with 21 outfield assists -- his nearest rival, teammate Chris Roberson, had 16 -- and he committed just one error in 133 games in the field. Even as he struggled to adjust to the challenges of Double-A ball at the plate, he was laying the groundwork for the stellar outfield play that would be rewarded with a Gold Glove in 2009.
"Sending him straight to Double-A really showed the confidence the Phillies had in him and his abilities," said Forbes. Bourn always had a powerful arm, but with the help of Phillies outfield coordinator Jerry Martin, he improved his accuracy and footwork. "He had such a raw athleticism that he just needed to kind of catch up with himself."
Bourn returned to Reading to start the 2006 season, again guided by manager Forbes. In his second year at the Double-A level, Bourn cut down on his strikeouts and became even more efficient on the basepaths -- he was caught just four times in 34 attempts to steal. On July 4, the Phillies promoted him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he burst out of the gate with 10 hits -- three of them triples -- in his first six games.
The speedster spent less than a month in Triple-A before getting the call to Philadelphia, where he made his Major League debut in the second game of a doubleheader against Florida on July 30. After going 0-for-1 -- a flyout to right field off the Marlins' Joe Borowski -- he was sent back down to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He would not remain there long.
Bourn's last Minor League game came Aug. 15 as the Red Barons crushed visiting Syracuse, 10-1. Bourn went 2-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs, then headed off to join the U.S. National Team in its campaign to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. The U.S. went 8-1 in the tournament with Bourn slugging a pair of homers as the Americans topped previously unbeaten Cuba, 8-5, in the championship game in Havana on Sept. 5.
After his return, Bourn was a September callup with the Phillies, and then unexpectedly made the big league club out of Spring Training in 2007. Having sped through the Minor Leagues nearly as quickly as he can speed around the bases, Bourn headed home to Houston for the 2008 season.
Minor League career breakdown
2003: Bourn made his pro debut with Batavia of the Class A Short-Season New York-Penn League, where he stole 23 bases and posted a .404 on-base percentage in 35 games.|
2004: Broke out in his full-season debut with Class A Lakewood, batting .317 and leading the South Atlantic League in stolen bases (57), triples (14) and walks (85). Bourn's .433 OBP was second-highest on the circuit, and he was caught stealing just six times.|
2005: Jumped straight to Double-A Reading, where he hit .268 with 38 stolen bases (fourth-most in the Eastern League). His 21 outfield assists led the league.|
2006: Bourn returned to Reading to start the 2006 season, but was promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in early July. He batted .283 in 38 games with the Red Barons before his final promotion to the Majors in September.|