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Washington Nationals’ prospect James Bourque on transitioning to bullpen & getting added to 40-Man roster...

Washington Nationals’ prospect James Bourque excelled after he was transitioned to the bullpen in 2018, and he was added to the 40-Man roster this winter.

Washington Nationals’ prospect James Bourque was the only player in the organization who was eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft this winter that was added to the Nationals’ 40-Man roster and protected.

Bourque, 25, and a 2014 14th Round pick out of the University of Michigan, finished the 2018 campaign, his first working exclusively in relief, with a 2.16 ERA, a 2.76 FIP, 12 walks (3.24 BB/9), and 52 Ks (14.04 K/9) in 33 13 innings pitched for Class-A Potomac, and a stingy 0.92 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 14 walks (6.41 K/9), and 24 Ks (10.98 K/9) in 19 23 IP at Double-A Harrisburg.

The transition to the bullpen followed two less-than stellar seasons starting in Hagerstown, where he went (10-13) with a 5.05 ERA in 181 23 IP for the Suns in 2016-17, after he returned from Tommy John surgery which cost him the entirety of 2015.

“I was pretty happy with the season,” Bourque said earlier this month, when he spoke to the D.C. press corps at Nationals Park during the Winterfest event about his 2018 campaign and the Nats’ decision to add him to the 40-Man.

“I think, first full year as a reliever, I had to learn some things first couple weeks, first month or so, and then got into a routine and kind of built some confidence and then carried that throughout the year. So I was pretty pleased with that and then, yeah, I mean, always exciting when you get that phone call. It’s the first step towards making a dream come true, so yeah, it was a good feeling.”

The first people he told when he learned he was being added to the 40-Man?

“I was with my parents, luckily,” Bourque said, “because it was right before Thanksgiving, so told them, and they were pretty pumped.

“Then I texted some of my old coaches, high school and college teammates, and then after that I was getting texts from a bunch of people, so kind of people close to me first.”

Obviously, the transition to the bullpen was a success. Why did he do so well working out of the ‘pen after struggling as a starter?

“I think that starting, you get those four days to just sit and think about your last outing, and when I was at Hagerstown a lot of those outings weren’t very good, so I think that having to come back quickly and like, you know, the next day you’ve got to be ready to go, so if it was awful the day before then you forget about it, if it was great the day before, you’ve still got to be ready, so I think that mental transition was big.”

How did he handle the “mental transition”? And what, if anything, changed on the mound in terms of his pitch selection once he made the move to relief work?

“I think that in Spring Training it was, like I said, it was kind of more mental, so I was talking to [organizational pitching coordinator Paul Menhart] and he said, ‘Hey, just go out and do your thing. Have some confidence. We’re going to put you in the bullpen, and enjoy it.’ And then I went to Instructs this year and started working on a changeup, which I previously threw as a starter, but didn’t really get to use this season. I didn’t really feel like breaking it out middle of the year trying to work on it, so that’s kind of been the focus this offseason, having that third pitch but still making sure the fastball and curveball are sharp.”

Further Reading: Here’s a recent scouting report on Bourque from 2080 Baseball’s Adam McInturff, with notes from his time in the 2018 Instructional League.