Angels baserunner Peter Bourjos, left, collides with Kansas City catcher… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)
TEMPE, Ariz. — — Peter Bourjos appreciates the support of Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto, who held on to the speedy center fielder despite having numerous chances to trade him last season and remained committed to Bourjos as a starter after signing outfielder Josh Hamilton in December.
"It's nice to hear, but now I have to prove him right," said Bourjos, who is expected to team with Hamilton in right field and Mike Trout in left to give the Angels one of baseball's best defensive outfields. "I have to prove that 2011 was not a fluke."
He also must prove that to the guy filling out the lineup card. Although Dipoto said repeatedly over the off-season that Bourjos would start and veteran outfielder Vernon Wells would be a reserve, Mike Scioscia doesn't sound like a manager who is 100% committed to Bourjos as an everyday center fielder.
"Peter is definitely in the mix to earn playing time; he gives us an incredible defensive look in the outfield," Scioscia said Sunday. "But there are a lot of lineups, depending on who the designated hitter is and if things change, where Trout is in center. We have some guys who are fighting for playing time."
After a two-month big league debut at the end of 2010 in which he looked spectacular in the field but overmatched (.204) at the plate, Bourjos found his stride in 2011, hitting .271 with 12 home runs, an American League-leading 11 triples, 26 doubles, 43 runs batted in, 72 runs and 22 stolen bases in 147 games.
Defensively, Bourjos raced into the gaps to turn would-be doubles into outs, leaped over walls to pull back would-be home runs and, according to Fangraphs, saved 21 runs, second-most in baseball.
Then, like some magic act, Bourjos disappeared. He opened 2012 as the starting center fielder, hit .167 in April and was demoted to a part-time role after Trout was called up.
A late-May injury to Wells led to fairly regular time, but Bourjos was hitting .228 through July while Trout emerged as a most-valuable-player candidate. Bourjos started twice and had 10 at-bats in August and September. He had 168 at-bats last season after getting 502 at-bats in 2011.
"Last year, the at-bats weren't consistent enough to get any rhythm at the plate," Bourjos said. "I feel if I get playing time, if I get 500 at-bats, my numbers will be where they should be at the end of the year."
Bourjos will probably bat ninth, so he won't have to carry the Angels offensively, but his glove alone probably won't keep him in the lineup.
"Any player who's out there has to help you win," Scioscia said, when asked if it was important that Bourjos get off to a good start in 2013. "Peter doesn't have the pressure of having to be off-the-charts offensively because of the premium defense he brings.
"I think the year he had in 2011 was more reflective of what his talent is, and if he plays to the level he can, he'll get a tremendous amount of playing time. But if other guys are playing better and we have to mix and match, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
Scioscia usually doesn't select his opening-day starter until late March, but he acknowledged the obvious Sunday, saying he was "targeting" Jered Weaver for the April 1 opener at Cincinnati. It would be the right-hander's fourth consecutive opening-day start. … Infielders Luis Rodriguez and Luis Jimenez, who had visa problems last week, joined workouts.