Alec Bohm dressed Friday night in a pinstripe Phillies uniform, sporting the major-league jersey in the major-league ballpark. Bohm, aside from not having a name or number on his back, looked the part of a major-leaguer at Citizens Bank Park.
But the team’s top position-player prospect knows there is still some time until he is actually playing that part.
The Phillies are expected to keep Bohm and Spencer Howard, their top pitching prospect, off the opening day roster when the season begins on July 24. Bohm and Howard can be considered among the top 30 players at the team’s summer camp, but the Phillies will be motivated to keep them off the roster in order to manipulate their service time.
If the Phillies send Bohm and Howard to their alternate training site Allentown for at least the first five days of the season that would delay their service-time clocks enough to gain an extra year of club control. Bohm and Howard would be eligible for free agency after the 2026 season instead of 2025.
“There’s no hard feelings about it. It is what it is,” Bohm said. “That’s a thing they can do. That’s a smart business move. I’m not going to hold any grudge over it or raise a stink about it. It’s part of the game. Everybody’s gone through it.”
Each game will carry more weight during a 60-game season, but leaving Bohm and Howard off the major-league roster for five games -- 8.33% of the season -- should not be what makes or breaks the team’s playoff chances. Howard, if he was on the opening-day roster, would give the Phillies a four- or five-inning start in the time before he would have been recalled from Allentown. Bohm would likely be a bench bat if he was on the roster while Jean Segura started at third base.
Also, it can’t be ignored that this season is not guaranteed to finish. Burning a season of club control for two premier prospects in exchange for five games in a season that could be canceled by a pandemic would be reckless.
“It’s part of it,” Howard said. “There’s not much than I can do about it other than take care of my work every day and try to get a little bit better and keep progressing, and what they choose to do is up to them. But I think as far as just keeping everything that I can control, keep that rolling. That’s my mindset toward it.”
Bohm, the third overall pick in the 2018 draft, hit .305 last season with 21 homers and a .896 OPS in 475 at-bats at single-A Lakewood, high-A Clearwater, and double-A Reading. Just like he did during spring training, Bohm has been spending time at first base in order to provide positional flexibility when he arrives. There have been concerns about his defense at third base, but he said he feels “much more comfortable on defense” than in the past, and the game “has really slowed down for me.”
Defense aside, Bohm’s offensive profile is already considered to be major-league ready. It’s just a matter of when the Phillies decide to bring him up.
“I know there’s still a lot of things that I have to learn and I don’t have everything figured out,” said Bohm, who turns 24 next month. “I also know I’m confident enough in my ability to perform at this level and help the team win. Whenever they decide that I’m ready, that’s when I’ll be here.”
Howard pitched three innings on Thursday night in an intrasquad game for his first game action at Citizens Bank Park. He finished last season at double-A Reading, where he had a 2.35 ERA in six starts with 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He has four pitches -- a high-90s fastball, curveball, change-up, and slider -- that are major-league caliber. Howard, who turns 24 on July 28, is ready for the majors.
The Phillies planned to limit his workload this season after a shoulder injury limited Howard to fewer than 100 innings in 2019. But the three-month delay to the season provided a natural limit, so the reins should be off Howard when he arrives.
“I’m ready for whatever they throw at me,” said Howard, a second-round pick in 2017.
Sometime this season, maybe as early as this month, Bohm and Howard will reach the major leagues. They’ll be back in a major-league ballpark wearing a major-league uniform. By then, they’ll have names on the back. After a brief delay, their careers will be ready to start. Finally, they’ll be playing the part of major-leaguers. The only thing missing will be the fans.