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All-Time Marlins Countdown: Chapter 126

Justin Bour and David Phelps both exceeded expectations in Miami.

Milwaukee at Miami David Santiago/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Fish Stripes is bringing you daily articles as part of the All-Time Marlins Countdown leading up to 2021 Opening Day.

Today and every Saturday through the end of the series, I will be a “pinch-hitter” for the Fish Stripes staffers who ordinarily handle these articles. This was an especially fun one!

55. David Phelps

Phelps’ career pitching stats

The University of Notre Dame has earned a reputation for developing many elite professional football. The baseball program’s track record isn’t quite as sterling. David Phelps sticks out as one of the most successful major leaguers to attend that school during the MLB Draft era (since 1965).

Phelps was groomed as a conventional starting pitcher during his ascension through the Yankees farm system. Upon reaching The Show, though, his role became far more malleable. From 2012-2014, he was among just a handful of MLB pitchers to make 40-plus total starts and 40-plus relief appearances. Phelps’ results were roughly league average (4.21 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 1.35 WHIP in 299.1 IP), which evidently wasn’t enough to make him indispensable.

On December 19, 2014, the Missouri native was traded to the Marlins along with veteran infielder Martín Prado in exchange for right-handers Domingo Germán and Nathan Eovaldi and slugger Garrett Jones. All things considered, that turned out well for the Fish!

Those mid-2010s Miami teams were notoriously lacking in rotation depth, so Phelps got more reps to prove himself as a starter than he ever had in New York. He expanded his repertoire in 2015, utilizing four-seam fastballs, sinkers, sliders, curveballs, changeups and the occasional cutter. He was on the verge of establishing a new career-high in innings pitched when, unfortunately, a right forearm strain brought his season to an abrupt end in mid-August.

Arguably Phelps’ lowest moment with the Marlins was allowing nine earned runs to the Rockies at Coors Field on Jun. 6 of that year. But he rebounded five days later with his best all-around performance, getting revenge on the Rox by tossing eight scoreless innings (he got some help from Christian Yelich to keep the shutout intact).

Relegated to the bullpen for the majority of 2016, Phelps was incredible. His strikeout rate doubled from the previous year while his earned run average halved. He ditched the changeup after some early struggles, but each of his five other offerings were effective (opponents’ wOBA of .272 or below).

Although Phelps continued to contribute at a high level in 2017, the same could not be said of his supporting cast. The Marlins were below the .500 mark throughout the first half of the season and decided to sell off some veterans as the trade deadline approached. In an effort to replenish their barren farm system, they dealt him to Seattle on Jul. 20 for prospects Brayan Hernández, Brandon Miller, Lukas Schiraldi and Pablo López.

Less than one month into his Mariners tenure, that forearm issue Phelps battled in ‘15 resurfaced. He landed on the injured list and later underwent Tommy John surgery. Once again, the Marlins came out on the right end of a Phelps trade as López showed top-of-the-rotation upside in 2020 and remains under club control for at least the next four seasons.

Since his surgery, Phelps has played with the Blue Jays, Cubs, Brewers and Phillies, most recently returning to the Jays on a one-year free agent deal.

54. Justin Bour

Bour’s MLB career stats

The chances of building a substantial major league career for yourself are low if you get left unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft. It means that four-plus years since entering the pros, you haven’t been deemed worthy of a 40-man roster spot by your MLB organization. Justin Bour showed consistency and durability for much of his tenure as a Cubs farmhand—individual seasons of a .811 OPS in 547 PA at Low-A, .813 OPS in 558 PA at High-A, .815 OPS in 577 PA at Double-A. But shortly after beginning a repeat season at Double-A in 2013, Bour suffered an injury. When he returned, the production wasn’t quite the same (finished the year with a .313 OBP).

With Anthony Rizzo cementing himself as Chicago’s everyday first baseman, the Cubs (understandably) did not see Bour as a high priority. The Marlins took advantage in December 2013 by selecting him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5.

No regrets for the Cubs, of course: Rizzo became a full-fledged star in 2014 and remains a integral piece of their franchise and community. Meanwhile, though, the Marlins took a flier on a pudgy 25-year-old who became one of the best first baseman in their relatively brief history.

Bour ranks in the top 25 among all-time Marlins players in nearly every offensive statistic. For a six-week stretch during the first half of the 2017 season, he quietly raked on par with MLB’s leading hitters (.345/.406/.697, 187 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR in 160 PA). A left ankle contusion derailed with All-Star candidacy, but he “starred” during the festivities in Miami nonetheless as a participant in the Home Run Derby.

The gregarious Bour was a great asset to the Marlins clubhouse and an ideal ambassador to the community.

Right around his 30th birthday, Bour’s production cratered. From the day after that milestone through the end of his Marlins tenure, he slashed .216/.317/.376 with only nine homers in 61 games. On Aug. 10, the rebuilding Fish sent him to Philadelphia in exchange for pitching prospect McKenzie Mills. The change of scenery didn’t help. Bour barely contributed down the stretch of that 2018 season, signed with the Angels for 2019, but ended up spending just as much time with their Triple-A affiliate as the major league club.

Bour went overseas in 2020 on a one-year deal with Nippon Professional Baseball’s Hanshin Tigers. The raw numbers improved (.243/.338/.422, 17 HR, 45 RBI in 379 PA). Not enough to entice MLB teams as of this writing, unfortunately.

Fish Stripes original GIF

He’s not done yet! Bour is back in Florida scrimmaging against fellow unsigned pros including former Marlins reliever AJ Ramos (coming up on countdown Chapter 150).

Whenever Bour ultimately wraps up his playing career, there are certain to be numerous opportunities for him to remain involved with the sport.