It has been a while since a second-year Phillies player has generated as much excitement as third baseman Alec Bohm.
How far back do we have to go?
Perhaps the answer is Ryan Howard in 2006. He was coming off his National League Rookie of the Year season and we all wanted to see how much power he could display in a full season.
The response by the Big Piece was staggering. He hit a club-record 58 home runs and earned the NL MVP award.
Bohm, 24, doesn’t figure to display that kind of pop -- he hit four homers while batting .338 in 44 games last season. But it seems within the realm of possibility that he could hit .300 and slug 20-plus home runs in his second year. That has not been accomplished by a Phillies player since Aaron Rowand and Chase Utley both did it in 2007.
Philadelphia, of course, is the home of the greatest third baseman of all time in Mike Schmidt and some might argue that Scott Rolen, who played the hot corner for the Phillies from 1996 until being traded to St. Louis in 2002, also belongs in the top 10 at that position. At the very least, he is in the conversation about the greatest defensive third basemen to ever play the game. Schmidt, with 10 Gold Gloves, is also in that conversation.
It was their brilliant defense, combined with their offensive abilities, that made Schmidt and Rolen special, and it will be interesting to see if Bohm can also develop into an elite defender. The fact that he is getting a chance is a huge step in the right direction.
“I had a chance to talk to a number of people that were around him and they just marveled at what our minor-league staff did with him over those couple years [in the minors] and how far he has come,” manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday after the Phillies’ spring-training workout in Clearwater, Fla. “And he is going to get even better.”
Coming out of Wichita State as the No. 3 overall pick in 2018, the scouting report from Baseball America questioned Bohm’s ability to play third base: That report said, “Bohm has done as much as anyone in the 2018 class to prove himself with the bat, but where the questions will surface for him are on the defensive side. Some scouts think Bohm will eventually have to move to first base, while others believe his strong arm will be enough for him to stay at the hot corner.”
Bohm heard the doubters.
“Oh, yes, absolutely,” he said. “Any time there is any doubt about whether guys like us can do something as athletes, we want to prove people wrong. So, yeah, there’s a little bit of that for sure.”
It is interesting to note that the scouts weren’t so sure about Nolan Arenado as a defender when he was taken by Colorado in the second round of the 2009 draft. Some thought he would move from his high school position of shortstop to catcher. Others thought he might be OK at third base. The Rockies never played him anywhere other than third base and he has won the Gold Glove in all eight of his major-league seasons. He’ll attempt to win his ninth this season with St. Louis.
Bohm, the runner-up for the NL Rookie of the Year award last season, had some bouts of unsteadiness in the field with his worst performance being a two-error game – one fielding and one throwing – in an ugly loss to the Braves in Atlanta in his ninth game. After that, however, he made just one more error in 71 chances at third base. He also handled 59 chances without an error in seven games as a first baseman.
Two things weigh heavily in Bohm’s favor as he strives to become a top defensive player: his confidence and his work ethic.
“The game has really just slowed down for me on that side of the ball,” Bohm said. “I’m starting to feel how the play is going to go before the ball really even gets to me. It comes with the repetition of doing things over and over again. I definitely feel light-years ahead of where I was [coming out of college]. The staff is out there every minute I’m out there and they’ve done so much to help me ... but there’s still more to be done.”
Girardi agreed with Bohm’s self-assessment.
“There were adjustments he made during the season,” the manager said. “He got in a little funk for a couple of days and found his way out and played what I thought was pretty good defense the rest of the year. I was pleased. It’s not easy to be a 6-foot-6 infielder. It just really isn’t. But I think he moves around well and I think he’ll continue to improve. I know one thing is that he works really hard. You want players that are really good on both sides of the baseball and I think he’s going to be really good on both sides.”
That, of course, is why we now think of Schmidt as the greatest to ever play the position and why Rolen‘s Hall of Fame candidacy is gaining steam.
“If you play third base, you’re aware of those two guys,” Bohm said. “They are two of the best that have ever done it. I’ve met Mike Schmidt. I haven’t been able to pick his brain too much because of everything going on. He hasn’t been able to come around much, but I’m excited to be able to sit down with him more and get to know him and be able to pick his brain a little bit.”
A conversation between the greatest third baseman of all time and a kid striving to be great is just another reason to look forward to Bohm’s second season.