As a perennial small-market franchise, the Miami Marlins have had to devise creative ways to construct a roster during their 23 years of existence.
Selected in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft, Centreville native Justin Bour is the latest undervalued find by the Marlins becoming their starting first baseman and one of the biggest bargains in the game.
At first glance, the 6-foot-4 Bour possesses the ideal size of a defensive end, playing that position for Westfield High School in Chantilly. Though he attended the same school as future NFL products Eddie Royal and Mike Glennon, Bour set himself up for a career on the baseball diamond becoming a first baseman and attended George Mason University playing for legendary head coach Bill Brown.
“I enjoyed playing for him when he recruited me from the very beginning. I liked the way he coached and valued every second of it,” Bour said.
Bour flourished under Coach Brown at George Mason, putting together some of the most prolific seasons in school history. In his three collegiate seasons for the Patriots, Bour averaged 15 home runs and 62 runs batted with an OPS better than .901 in each year of eligibility. Bour forever etched his name into the school’s record books on March 6, 2007, hitting two grand slams and collecting 9 RBIs in a 28-1 victory of Coppin State.
Mammoth power numbers and consistency at the plate suggested that Bour was a possible mid-round selection in the 2009 Major League Amateur Draft, but fell to the Chicago Cubs in the 25th round. “For me I was expecting to get drafted higher than I did on the original draft day”, Bour noted. “I was told I would go anywhere from the 5th to the 10th round, with 12th being the absolute last. Being taken in the 25th round was obviously frustrating, but once you get drafted, everybody is on an even playing field.”
After some initial disappointment, Bour continued his strong play at the plate, as he sought to earn notice as a prospect in the Cubs’ organization. Peaking with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies in 2012, Bour batted .283/.360/.455, driving in 110 runs and being named to the Southern League Postseason All-Star team.
Bour hit 16 home runs in the second half of the following season with the Smokies, but found himself blocked on the organizational roster at first base by Anthony Rizzo and was taken by the Marlins in the minor league phase of that winter’s Rule 5 Draft.
“He was a guy who put up big numbers in the Cubs’ organization. When the front office changed in Chicago, there were some guys they left unprotected and Miami took him in the minor league Rule 5 Draft,” Marlins broadcaster Rich Waltz said.
Receiving his taste of the major leagues during a 39 game stint with the Marlins in 2014, Bour became an established regular season last season, finishing fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting with 23 home runs and 73 RBIs in 409 at bats, with most of his damage coming against right handed in place of offseason free agent signing Michael Morse. “The coaches that we have here have been a huge help for me. You look around the locker room and see all the good players we have on this team, you don’t get here by not knowing baseball or how to hit. You have a high understanding of the game,” Bour said.
Entering his second full season, Bour is part of a platoon at first base with DeLand, Florida native Chris Johnson and shed 20 pounds in offseason conditioning to withstand the rigors of a 162 game season and make strides at the position for former Yankees captain and new manager Don Mattingly. “It’s about being strong out of the gates with Bour. He is playing good defense for us and has stretched a couple of hits and using the middle of the field,” Mattingly said.
Featuring plus power and improving instincts both at the plate and in the field, Bour continues making strides and has the potential to add to his strong numbers of his rookie season after being overlooked in his first five minor league seasons.
“I think something is said about a player who has to earn it in the minor leagues and wasn’t a first or second round pick. Sometimes I think a guy like Justin is better equipped to handle those challenges than others because nothing was handed to him,” Waltz said.