Struggling Angels first baseman Justin Bour, who was signed to a one-year, $2.5-million contract in the offseason in part to back up aging Albert Pujols, was optioned to triple-A Salt Lake moments after he struck out with a runner on first in the the ninth inning of Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
Manager Brad Ausmus had called on him to pinch-hit for David Fletcher, gambling that Bour might hit a go-ahead home run.
Prospect Jared Walsh, who was not in the lineup at Salt Lake on Tuesday after playing in the Bees’ first 37 games, will take Bour’s place on the 25-man roster, according to a source not permitted to publicly comment. Walsh is not on the 40-man roster, but two spots opened last week when the Angels designated right-handed pitcher Chris Stratton and outfielder Peter Bourjos for assignment.
“I can’t really say it’s coming as any kind of surprise,” said Bour, who’s hitting .163. “The beginning of the season really hasn’t clicked for me like I know I’m capable of doing. There are two ways to look at it. I look at it as an opportunity to go down and figure some stuff out and get back as soon as possible.”
Walsh, a left-handed reliever and first baseman, was considered a fringe prospect until the Angels converted him into a two-way player last season. He quickly found success on the mound: In 10-2/3 innings over 13 appearances since last year, he has surrendered 11 hits and four runs (three earned) and struck out 11.
But Walsh’s power at the plate increased his stock. He hit 29 home runs, 34 doubles and one triple and drove in 99 runs last year. This year, he’s batting .302 with 12 doubles, 10 home runs, 26 RBIs and 19 walks.
Walsh, 25, was eligible to be picked in the Rule 5 draft during the offseason because the Angels didn’t protect him on their 40-man roster. No team took him, and the Angels might now get the chance to reap the rewards of their innovative approach with him.
The Angels were counting on Bour to provide similar pop. He hit at least 20 home runs in three of his four full seasons in the majors. He has hit four this season but only one changed the complexion of a game: a grand slam when the Angels trailed the New York Yankees by six runs in an eventual 7-5 loss.
Bour hasn’t found a groove at the plate, with a wilted .584 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 31 strikeouts. Furthermore, more than once he was guilty of baserunning mistakes.