Justin Bour racked up the frequent flier miles in 2014, going back and forth from AAA to the majors four times. Wherever the first baseman happened to be on any given week though, he performed well. His first sample of playing with the big boys was a tasty morsel. as he collected 21 hits in his first 74 ABs including his first major league home run in his 31st career game. His performance in the bigs and as well as his best season as a pro in AAA (.308/.372/.517, 18 HR) in 2014 far outdid his projection as a borderline C prospect and probably would have earned him an extended look at first base in spring training this year. But when the Marlins signed Michael Morse to a two-year contract in the offseason, it assured that Bour would begin his ninth year as a professional in the minors.
Fast forward to 2015. It appears as though Bour’s spurning by the Marlins has motivated him even more. Through 14 games with the Zephyrs, Bour is hitting .275/.403/.353. While the power numbers are down so far, you know they will come to the 6’4″ 250 mammoth who has never totaled less than a .436 SLG and 12 homers since his first year in rookie ball. What is most encouraging about Bour’s start are his numbers in the patience department which greatly improved last season and have continued to do so far this season. A perennial 100+ strikeout victim over his first three full seasons (and a probable one in 2013 if not for a hairline fracture in his wrist only allowing him to get in to 83 games in which he K’d 63 times), Bour posted a 57/39 K/BB. So far this year, he has done something that would have seemed impossible two years ago: walked more than he has K’d (6/11 K/BB). Since coming to the Marlins from the Cubs’ organization, he has improved his BB/K from 0.53 to 0.69, including the at-bats he got in the his first major league experience in 2014. Since his Marlins career has started, Bour has developed the ability to work counts deeper a lot more frequently and has been more selective, which has allowed him to get back to his dead pull hitting roots and pepper the right side of the field. The increase in patience and production that cut his K totals nearly in half and lead to success at the major league level are a testament to the work of both Bour and his coaches.
Looking at simple photographs from his last season in the Cubs’ organization to his time spent with the Marlins last year, the adjustments Bour has made are obvious.
Remaining more upright, Bour is getting the most of what his massive legs can give him. His hands are more in line with the baseball and his shoulders are much more square. He is driving off his back foot on to his plant foot much better allowing him to drive through the zone much more efficiently. All of these positive adjustments have developed a much better approach at the plate and resulted in the most encouraging improvement for Bour: the ability to go the other way, preventing teams from putting the shift on him. His one homer so far this year was hit to an area he did not touch at all in 2014, down the left field line. Bour has come a long way since he struggled mightily to find his swing again after coming off the DL in mid-2013 with the Cubs. He attributes his success to studying video of his swing with his coaches, a practice which followed him all the way to the big leagues.
Defensively, Bour is average but his big frame best suits him for a designated hitter role in the AL. That is who he will be trying to attract in his fourth stint as a major leaguer. If he succeeds, Bour could garner surprisingly decent value at the deadline.