Around the Horn: Outfielders
Bourn's speed fills need in center; Pence to be tested in right
The following is the fourth in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each week until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Outfielders.
HOUSTON -- The current offseason will go down in Astros history as one of the busiest ever, so it's understandable if it takes us a few minutes to remember the very first big deal general manager Ed Wade completed when he began reshaping the roster.
On Nov. 7, 2007, Wade made a last-minute deal as the General Managers Meetings were winding down, acquiring center fielder Michael Bourn in a five-player deal that sent Brad Lidge to Philadelphia.
In Bourn, Wade felt he had obtained a prototypical leadoff center fielder with blazing speed and an above-average arm. Think Willy Taveras, who, like Bourn, is lauded for his "world-class" speed. Having watched Bourn as a young Phillies prospect when he was the GM of that club, Wade targeted Bourn as one player at the top of his wish list as he set out to fix the Astros' problems.
Bourn appears to have the tools, the work ethic and the drive. What he doesn't have is experience -- over parts of two Major League seasons, Bourn has had a total of 127 at-bats.
The club believes that given a chance to play every day, Bourn will thrive. Wade and manager Cecil Cooper both see Bourn as the leadoff hitter of the present and future, although Cooper is also not averse to moving Hunter Pence to the leadoff spot should Bourn falter.
While it remains to be seen if Bourn will successfully handle the everyday job from an offensive standpoint, defensively, no one doubts Bourn's abilities.
"He's the baseball version of world-class speed," Wade said. "That's what Bourn has. His first-step quickness and acceleration is pretty remarkable."
Wade feels had he not made any other significant changes to the lineup, the pressure on Bourn would be higher. But the additions of Kazuo Matsui and Miguel Tejada lightened the load, dispersing the responsibility more evenly throughout the batting order.
"This kid, if that was the only deal we made in the offseason, we'd be putting a lot on his plate," Wade said. "We added significant pieces to the club, which makes his move to the lineup a lot easier. He shouldn't feel what could have been a significant amount of pressure if that was the only deal this offseason. This kid's pretty special."
With Bourn in center, those issues are presumably no longer an issue.
Wade joked about the left field-center field dynamics during a press conference introducing Bourn.
"He tells me he's going to let Carlos stand in one spot, and he'll take everything from right-center field all the way over to the left-field corner," Wade said. "I'm sure Carlos won't be upset with that deal as well."
Lee, who readily admits he's reaping his lucrative earnings because of his offensive contributions as opposed to defense, can expect an easier time at Minute Maid Park this year. Last season, he had to adjust to the unpredictability of the left-field wall, which caused the balls to bounce in countless different directions with various levels of speed. Assuming Lee has benefited from 81 games played at home in '07, it's likely he'll enjoy a much more productive defensive season in '08.
The acquisition of Bourn pushed Pence to right field. While his arm may not be considered as strong as most right fielders, Wade is confident the young outfielder will be able to handle the job. Clearly, Pence's accuracy and arm strength will be tested in '08.
Wade was hired toward the end of the 2007 season and, therefore, has watched Pence play only a handful of games, so he relied on his staff's recommendations regarding Pence moving to right.
"I just have to go by what our guys said, and they believe he has enough arm to play there," Wade said. "They felt if we were able to get a prototypical center fielder, it makes sense to move him that way."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.