Is Justin Bour the first baseman of the future for the Marlins?
The Atlanta Braves think so. After Bour bashed four home runs in their weekend series with the Marlins, the Braves were gushing about the burly first baseman.
“I think the Marlins can say they found a first baseman, for sure,” said Braves pitcher Shelby Miller, who gave up one of Bour’s two blasts on Sunday at Marlins Park. “He’s a guy that looks like he’s not going to be going anywhere.”
Said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was equally impressed: “This ballpark, for as big as it is, doesn’t hold him. He’s a big, strong boy. When the big boy [Giancarlo Stanton] comes back ... they’re a very formidable team going into next year.”
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Bour wasn’t even supposed to be the Marlins’ first baseman this year. That role was supposed to belong to Michael Morse. But when Morse sputtered, the job became Bour’s, a 27-year-old rookie the Marlins found on the cheap.
The Marlins snatched Bour from the Chicago Cubs out of the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Their cost: $12,500.
Now it’s looking like one of the greatest heists in team history.
With 23 home runs — and with six games still remaining — Bour is putting up one of the best power seasons ever by a Marlins rookie. The Marlins’ record for home runs by a rookie belongs to Dan Uggla, who hit 27 out in 2006. Stanton hit 22 home runs as a rookie in 2010 and in about the same number of at-bats.
“He’s got more pop,” Stanton said, only half-joking.
With nine home runs so far this month, Bour is one shy of Gary Sheffield’s team record for September/October.
“I always felt like if I got enough at bats, I was going to put up numbers,” Bour said.
But Bour is beginning to prove that he’s more than a one-dimensional hitter, with nothing else to provide than power.
He’s hitting over .300 for the month and spraying opposite-field hits with greater frequency. Opposing teams that once played Bour strictly to pull are now backing away from infield shifts designed to play to that perceived weakness.
Credit Marlins hitting coach Frank Menechino for convincing Bour to use all parts of the field.
“When you come to the big leagues as a rookie and you want to impress, you immediately go to pull-side homers,” Menechino said. “He did that in the beginning.”
But Menechino convinced Bour to change his approach.
“I basically got him off the plate a little bit, told him to trust his hands, and work a middle-away approach,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you’re not going to pull the ball. But look for that extension to hit the ball to all fields.”
Now, Menechino said, teams have to think twice about how to position their infielders when Bour stands in at the plate.
“As soon as they see a couple of ground balls in the ‘six’ [shortstop] hole, they panic, because now he’s not a turn-and-burn guy anymore,” Menechino said.
Said Stanton of Bour’s emerging talent: “You knew it was there. Now he’s putting it together. The league adjusted to him after his first month, and now he’s adjusted back. He’ll look over his whole season and see the difference in what he did.”
Menechino said Bour is still a work in progress, with room for improvement.
“He’s still got a long ways to go,” Menechino said. “Sometimes it takes up to two or three years in the big leagues. But give credit to him. He’s worked at it.”
▪ Tuesday: Marlins LHP Adam Conley (4-1, 3.93 ERA) at Tampa Bay Rays LHP Matt Moore (2-4, 6.48), 7:10 p.m., Tropicana Field.
▪ Wednesday: Marlins RHP Jarred Cosart (2-4, 4.15) at Tampa Bay Rays LHP Drew Smyly (4-2, 3.26), 7:10 p.m., Tropicana Field.