Saturday, November 14, 2009

Buster Olney wants in on the Bourn love-fest

And Buster Olney breaks down the evolution of Michael Bourn:

Before joining Aguilas in winter ball, in the Dominican Republic, he started to unravel the puzzle of his swing. Besides pulling ground balls to the right side of the infield, Bourn also was hitting the ball off the end of his bat a lot -- clues, he felt, that told him his swing was too quick, and that his bat wasn't in the hitting zone long enough. He liked to watch Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee take batting practice, and he admired how their level swings seem to be pulled through the plate for so long, giving them a greater chance for better contract. Bourn's swing, on the other hand, was just too quick, which is why he kept hitting the harmless grounders to second base.

Late in the 2008 season, Astros coach Dave Clark gave Bourn a suggestion -- Bourn should try hitting with his weight shifted forward at the outset of his swing, rather than with his weight back, on his left hip. Ultimately, Clark said, Bourn would need to get back to hitting with his weight back -- but this change would allow Bourn to focus on how he used his hands in his swing path.

Imagine swinging a Wiffle ball bat with your hands only, and without shifting your weight from your back hip to your front hip; this is what Clark did in September of 2008. And he could feel, in his swing, a solution evolving. He began to hit the ball to the left side of the infield, or through the middle. The progress continued in winter ball, and in spring training, Berkman suggested to him that he should work off a tee daily, develop a routine in which he practiced his level swing path, using his hands and the shift of his weight in concert...

...And in spring training, Bourn noticed that the foul balls he was hitting were going into the stands along the third base line. A good thing, he felt.

"What this told me was that I was doing better at letting the ball get deeper in the strike zone," said Bourn. "I was a little behind the ball, and all I needed to do was to be a little quicker."

2009 was a great year for Bourn, and a springboard for what I hope will be a successful 8-10 years. Maybe more importantly, the Lidge/Bourn trade offered some confidence in the abilities of Ed Wade (that he got something more than a case of Icy Hot for Pudge is another example).

The key to Bourn's career will be 2010. If he can further evolve into a solid offensive center-fielder, making the adjustments to overcome the adjustments that NL pitchers will inevitably counter with, Bourn will be a vacuum in CF.


Olney also has a note on Jason Castro:
There appears to be an excellent chance that Jason Castro will be the Astros' everyday catcher at some point next season. Some observations from one talent evaluator: "He's pretty clean defensively. I think he's going to be a lot like [A.J.] Pierzynski -- he's aggressive at the plate, and he'll hit .280 with 15-20 homers. He's really gotten better."