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Michael Bourn adds speed to Orioles outfield, but will he play enough to make a difference?

Adam Jones is excited about recent additions to improve the team’s outfield defense, but knows players with defensive limitations will be the regulars.

A reunion with veteran outfielder Michael Bourn always seemed to make sense for the Orioles, especially given the spark he provided during the club's charge to the playoffs during last season’s final month. And throughout the offseason, there was mutual interest in Bourn returning to Baltimore, but it wasn’t until recent days, when the Orioles orchestrated a flurry of early spring training moves, that the addition became real. 

Bourn, still speedy at the age of 34, reported to camp Wednesday, representing the Orioles’ recent commitment to getting better defensively in the outfield and improving their on-base capability with added speed. He’s the second defensive-minded outfielder the club has added in the past week; they also signed Craig Gentry to a minor league deal Saturday.

It took a while for Bourn to return, but he said he enjoyed his brief time in Baltimore and always saw the Orioles as a fit. Invigorated by being thrown into a playoff race, Bourn hit .283/.358/.435 in 24 games with the Orioles after arriving in an Aug. 31 trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“It’s good to be here,” Bourn said. “… To be honest with you, in free agency you don’t know what to expect. You have to wait for the dominoes to fall, so I had to wait for the dominoes to fall. There still are some great players out there right now who aren’t signed, so what can you say? I’m just thankful for the opportunity, and just come out there and show what I’ve got, go out there and play. Get in baseball shape and see what happens.”

For the first time since Bourn was a young, unproven outfielder with the Philadelphia Phillies a decade ago, he enters spring training having to earn a roster spot. He joins a crowded outfield mix – the team has 13 players who can play the outfield on its spring roster – and although he’s a known commodity, there’s no guarantee he makes the club. Bourn was holding out for a major league deal, but settled for a March 27 opt-out, which will force the Orioles’ hand early. 

“You have to come in and try to do what you do to prove yourself, and that’s it,” Bourn said. “It’s spring training. You’re trying to get ready and trying to make sure you try to do what you can at the same time. It’s a different role for me because I haven’t had this role in a long time. I’ll be prepared. I’ll be ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”

Bourn conceded he was getting antsy when he was unsigned as spring training began last week, but tried to remain confident that his patience would pay off. 

“You’ve got a sense of urgency as a human being,” Bourn said. “Just like anything else, when you want something to happen, your urgency starts to [kick in] every day, wants to go, but you know you’ve got to be patient at the same time. I’m just thankful that it happened. … We finally got it to happen, we finally got somewhere we wanted it to be. Just make it happen from here.”

Orioles manager Buck Showalter called Bourn “a pretty seamless fit,” but said he will have to win a spot. There are eight outfielders on the 40-man roster, including two Rule 5 picks – Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander – who have to be carried on the 25-man roster throughout the year in order stick with the Orioles. Included in that mix is also Joey Rickard, last year’s Rule 5 darling who faces added competition from Gentry andBourn because they share similar skill sets.

“He’s been pretty active. He’s been playing,” Showalter said of Bourn. “He’ll get into the mix real quickly here. We didn’t go through a spring training with him. We know him from the situation he was cast in last year, but there’s a lot of other things. Our outfield situation has become a good potential – not a problem. It’s going to present some good challenges for us. We’ve got some versatile pieces out there.” 

The additions of Bourn and Gentry will undoubtedly help address the Orioles’ outfield defense, but center fielder Adam Jones – who was critical of the direction of the team’s offseason moves at last month’s FanFest, saying that the team still needed more athleticism in the outfield – didn’t sound wholly satisfied. 

He noted that while the Orioles have more speed to play outfield, the players who will see the most time at the corner spots – reigning home run leader Mark Trumbo, trade acquisition Seth Smith and second-year outfielder Hyun Soo Kim – aren’t known for their defense.

"For us to be a very contending team and to get out of that first round and past that wild card, we need to improve,” said Adam Jones. (Baltimore Sun video)

“Those are two guys who have great track records of catching the ball,” Jones said of Bourn and Gentry. “I’m thrilled to have them in camp, but what you have to understand is that the everyday players are probably going to be Trumbo and Kim or Seth and Kim.”

Jones said the moves indicate to him that the team is aware it needed to improve the outfield defensively.

"You see that they're here, so that means that the team is – not necessarily listening to me, but they've been watching the game," Jones said. "It's reality. You watch the game and you see what we're lacking. And it's not any jabs against any other person. It just is what it is. Some people just excel at different things. It just is what it is. For us to be a very contending team and to get out of that first round and past that wild card, we need to improve."

Last year, the Orioles' outfield defense was rated the worst in baseball in terms of playmaking and range. They owned a minus-11.2 ultimate zone runs per 150 games (UZR/150), according to FanGraphs. The statistic rates a defender's value based on the plays he makes on batted balls in his vicinity. The Orioles outfield also had a major league-worst minus-51 defensive runs saved (DRS) last season. 

"It doesn't matter who's out there," Jones said. "Whatever you have to do, we're going to have to do. If you look at it, our efficiency is terrific. We catch the ball. We throw the ball to the right bases. We catch everything that is in our vicinities. It just is what it is. The best thing about being a professional athlete is that you figure out that you're a professional, and you know how to make adjustments. That's just what we're going to have to do, figure it out, somehow, some way."

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