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03/22/11 1:15 PM ET

Bourjos' prowess in center drawing rave reviews

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Vernon Wells has seen humans fly. He once spent a training camp during his Toronto youth with Deion Sanders, who might have been the fastest player in baseball history.

"Neon Deion" notwithstanding, Wells, the Angels' new left fielder, recently witnessed a display of raw speed that left him spellbound.

It happened in a Cactus League game in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Angels engaging the D-backs. Peter Bourjos hit a sinking line drive to right-center that fooled Chris Young, skipping past him and rolling toward the wall.

"I saw Pete hit second, and looked out for a second to see where the ball was," Wells said. "When I picked him up, Pete was rounding third. It was incredible. How did he do that?"

Tales of Bourjos' speed are becoming the stuff of legend.

In another game in Scottsdale -- which happens to be Bourjos' hometown -- he robbed the Giants' Pat Burrell of a hit, with a full-tilt catch that his manager Mike Scioscia labeled "awesome," adding, "I don't know how he got there."

Asked the next morning how many center fielders could have made that play in deepest right-center after flying over from left-center, Scioscia thought of one -- Willie Mays -- and then began searching his mind for others. Paul Blair, Garry Maddox and Curt Flood were other names that surfaced.

Scioscia is not a man given to hyperbole.

Bourjos has two months worth of Major League experience in center, yet he already has moved 12 Rawlings Gold Gloves to the corners: Wells to left, and nine-time Gold Glover Torii Hunter to right.

It didn't take Hunter long last year, playing alongside Bourjos, to realize how special the kid is.

"He's a freak of nature," Hunter said. "He does things normal guys just can't do. Me and Vernon are here to help him become as good as he can be. The sky's the limit."

Bourjos is an easy-smiling, good-natured son of a former Major League player, with that relaxed manner that comes with growing up around the game.

His father, Chris, has been a scout for years, now employed by Baltimore. Peter used to trail along with him and sit among the scouts, picking up insights available to few kids not yet in their teens.

Absorbing all the information available, seeking it out from sources as dubious as old sportswriters, Bourjos loves everything about the game, and plans to wear a uniform until they tear it off him.

That could be close to two decades down the road, by which time he could have a den full of Gold Gloves and other awards defining a great career.

In 51 games, Bourjos made plays that, as Wells put it, "made your mouth drop." He made spectacular catches in gaps, and took back home runs -- throwing out 10 baserunners with a strong, accurate arm.

Bourjos' spring -- he's batting .351 with a .457 on-base percentage -- has been everything the Angels could have imagined. Even as he struggled to hit big league pitching during his two-month stint in 2010, he showed enough defense and baserunning skills to convince Scioscia this was an athlete he wanted in his lineup.

"With Peter in center, and Vernon and Torii on the wings," Scioscia said, "we have an incredible outfield that can rank right up there with the best I've seen."

Bourjos, who turns 24 on Opening Day in Kansas City, has a desire to excel that is visible in everything he does, but is not necessarily reflected in bold statements.

"I feel like I'm having good at-bats," he said. "I'm walking, stealing some bases. I've gotten a few good bunts down. As I'm getting more comfortable, I'm getting to know the pitchers better."

Bourjos had six homers in 181 Major League at-bats last year, which would project to about 20 in a full season. He's not a slap-and-dash type of hitter. One of his homers last year traveled beyond 420 feet. He can drill the gaps and find himself at third in a few heartbeats.

When Wells was acquired from Toronto, Bourjos was concerned he'd be headed back to Triple-A Salt Lake for more seasoning. He didn't realize the blueprints already had been laid out, showing Wells in left and Hunter in right.

Scioscia plans to open the season with Bourjos batting ninth to relieve the pressure. But he has the talent to be a superb leadoff man down the road.

"Eventually, his bat and speed will play in the [No.] 1 or [No.] 2 spots," Scioscia said. "He's not ready for that, yet. But against certain matchups, when [Maicer] Izturis isn't playing, he definitely could move up."

Bourjos is a .293 career Minor League hitter, with a .346 on-base percentage. He batted .314 at Salt Lake last season, with a .364 OBP.

"I'd like that someday," Bourjos said, when asked about leading off, "but I know it's probably not going to happen this year. I just want to play and settle in. I've mainly been a leadoff or [No.] 2 hitter in the Minor Leagues, so I'm comfortable there."

The bunt -- just the threat of it -- is a weapon that can add several dozen points to his batting average. He'll also force errors on ground balls, with infielders rushing to make the play.

"It's absolutely huge for him," Scioscia said, in reference to Bourjos developing his bunting skills. "When he brings in the third baseman and chops it by him, that's a double. It's also a way to contain strikeouts, move a runner, get on base. It can help him -- and the offense -- in so many ways."

Bourjos has stolen 50, 32 and 37 bases the past three seasons, despite missing chunks of time with injuries resulting from hustle plays.

Speed kills. It also thrills. Angels fans are in for more than their share, with Bourjos now and Mike Trout on the way.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.