James Bourque’s journey to the Nationals’ 40-man roster was an unlikely one, and his two above-average pitches give him a chance to advance even further.
The 25-year-old righthander dominated in his first full season as a reliever, recording a 2.16 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 33.1 innings at high Class A Potomac. He followed that with an 0.92 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 19.2 innings at Double-A Harrisburg.
That success helped him become the only players added to Washington’s 40-man to shield them from the Rule 5 draft.
“James had a breakout year finding his comfort level in the bullpen and is beginning to realize his strengths,” farm director Mark Scialabba said. “He attacks hitters with two above-average pitches in both his fastball and curveball and has made strides with his changeup as well.”
Those changeup strides have come in instructional league and in his offseason workouts. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Bourque said he pitched almost exclusively with his fastball and his curveball this past season but that he needs to add back a third pitch against higher-level competition.
“I checked with our video guys, and it was almost a 50-50 split—52 percent fastballs and 48 percent curveballs,” Bourque said. “Instead of mixing three pitches like I did as a starter, it was nice to give everything I had for one or two innings at a time. But I know I need to be able to throw another pitch on occasion.”
Bourque grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he played baseball, football, water polo and also swam in high school. He was small for his age—5-foot-6, 105 pounds as a freshman-team quarterback, he said—and it took him until May of his senior year to earn partial scholarship offers for baseball from Michigan and Notre Dame.
He chose his hometown Wolverines and pitched for them for three years before signing with the Nationals in 2014 as a 14th-round pick.
While Bourque was recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2015, he took the final hours he needed to earn a history degree from Michigan. He had ERAs of 5.03 and 5.05 the next two seasons at low Class A Hagerstown, primarily as a starter, but the move to the bullpen has suited him.
“Looking back on it now, I wouldn’t change anything,” he said.
— The Fredericksburg, Va., city council unanimously approved a $35 million stadium deal with the Silber family, owners of the Carolina League’s Potomac Nationals. The team is scheduled to move 35 miles south from Woodbridge, Va., to Fredericksburg before the 2020 season.
“I truly believe that this will be an amenity to the community that will return to the city tenfold,” council member Matt Kelly told the Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star.