Area for Improvement? Marlins First Baseman Justin Bour
By Eddie Noy
One of the few silver linings to the 2015 Miami Marlin season was the surprise performance of Justin Bour. Bour (27) officially assumed cold-corner duties after free agent signing Michael Morse had a horrific start (and end) to his Marlins career (.213/.276/.313 in 174 PAs). Morse would be shipped off to the Dodgers along with Mat Latos (presumably the inclusion of Cat Latos being the major selling point in the deal); the next day Morse would be sent to the Pirates – ostensibly to follow in the footsteps of former Marlins first baseman, “All Star” Gaby Sanchez.
Bour, an un-touted prospect, was selected in the AAA phase of the 2013 Rule 5 draft, after being left unprotected by the Cubs. In 2014, Bour raked in AAA New Orleans, and had himself a nice cafecito as a September call-up. After a slow spring to start 2015, Bour would be called up in late April, taking over for Jeff Baker as the primary pinch hitter and the occasional spot start at first. He assumed the every-day duties when Morse hit the DL in late May; and with Marlins brass (sensibly, and yet poorly) acting as sellers in free agency, Bour was able to cement his role as the club’s caretaker first baseman. Bour would go on to make the most of his opportunity posting a surprisingly solid .321 OBP, .471 slug. for the year, good for a 118 OPS+ after factoring in (no longer) spacious Marlins Park, though he hit slightly better at home (obviously, there’s plenty of incentive).
Digging a little deeper, Bour’s (decent for the era) plate discipline and solid power, tools he displayed in the minors, have translated well to the Show. As a lefty hitter, he mashed right-handed pitching (though, weirdly for a first baseman, throws right-handed), but was particularly susceptible to lefties (.221/293/.279 in 75 PAs *obligatory small sample alert*). After a rough June, Bour adjusted to major league pitching and posted consistent numbers the rest of the year, capping the season with a strong September. Other than not having a reputation as a prospect, there is nothing in his numbers that screams “regression candidate” – average BABIP (neutral), entering peak years (positive), league-wide pitching adjustments (negative).
Bour’s defensive numbers however are rather less exemplary – with low marks across the defensive metrics spectrum. Hopefully it will be an area of improvement in the offseason and with experience, especially after the arrival of legendary first baseman, (sadly, former) soul patch-rocker, and new Marlins Skipper – Don Mattingly.
Looking around the diamond, the Marlins have a surprisingly above average offensive lineup, and frankly (after accounting for Hech’s and Realmuto’s defensive contributions) Bour’s first base slot is the most obvious position for an upgrade. Still, other than maybe a righty platoon-mate, the Marlins should give Bour a shot to earn the job for another season and see if he can double down on that 5th place NL Rookie of the Year pedigree – possibly even as trade bait if it looks to be another lost season for the Fish. Bour is certainly not part of the “future” at age 27, but he is providing solid production while making the league minimum for two more seasons (arb-eligible in 2018). This last nugget may be what ultimately moves the needle in Bour’s favor given the Marlins’ (unnecessarily) limited resources.
Sep 25, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins second baseman
(right) celebrates after Miami Marlins first baseman Justin Bour (left) hit a three run homer during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Bour only has 529 career MLB PAs, it’s difficult to make projections given that sample size, but more of 2015 in 2016 is not unlikely, and would be a completely serviceable piece batting fifth or sixth in a healthy Marlins lineup. Whether his pronounced platoon split entrenches itself remains to be seen, but if the Marlins are still hanging around wild card contention come July, treating themselves to a glove-first junior platoon partner for Bour at first could be a low cost solution. Either way, when Jeff Mathis is the marquee addition of your off-season, Justin Bour is not the problem.