Alec Bohm spent just a year and a half in the minor leagues, playing 165 games in towns like Binghamton, N.Y., Charleston, W. Va., and Altoona, Pa., before he found himself last summer in Philadelphia. He was the everyday third baseman for a team in a playoff race and the 60-game season was already 22% complete.
There was little time for growing pains or to ride out a rookie slump. The Phillies were counting on Bohm, their first-round pick two years earlier, to produce. And he did. He hit .338 with a .881 OPS in 44 games. The 24-year-old finished second for the National League’s rookie of the year and enters 2021 as a key piece of a team still chasing that playoff berth.
But perhaps what was most impressive about Bohm’s first season was the way the third baseman adjusted to the majors so quickly. He had six hits in his first five games, never went more than two games without a hit, and had multiple hits in 18 of his 37 starts.
It was hard to tell that Bohm skipped a minor-league level on his climb to Philadelphia. He fit in right away. A big help, Bohm said, was his teammates who he said made him feel like he belonged as soon as he entered the clubhouse and gave him a dugout of “ears to chew on.”
“That dugout talk, you’re sitting in there and you go ‘Hey Cutch, you’ve been facing this guy for six years.’ Then he can pretty much tell you everything he’s going to do,” Bohm said. “I would be a fool to not use those guys and ask them. We have a deep lineup with a lot of experience and pretty much one through nine, I can go up to any of them, and they’ve faced the guy we’re facing at some time in the past and they probably have something that can help me. I leaned on those guys a ton.”
Bohm was not a mystery when he arrived last August. He was one of the team’s top prospects and knew opposing pitchers would be prepared to face him. There’s information, Bohm said, on “pretty much everything you can think of.” A wide-eyed rookie would be carved up.
So Bohm dug into what they knew, learning what his own scouting report was and identifying his weaknesses. Not only to work on his own flaws, Bohm said, but to understand how teams were going to attack him. He learned to study his own at-bats, learning that the way one pitcher approached him could foreshadow how the entire pitching staff would try to get him out.
The rookie proved to be a good study. He hit .455 last season the second time he faced a starting pitcher in a game and hit .342 against teams he played more than five times against. Bohm said his approach was simple: Take it one game at a time, put together good at-bats, and help his team win.
But he also did the research. It wasn’t an accident that Bohm fit in so quickly.
“I think it was pretty incredible what he did last year,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I know if I had a vote, he was the rookie of the year because he was an everyday player who made an impact. I don’t want to take away from [Milwaukee reliever Devin Williams] because he had an incredible season, too. But I like my guy and he’s the guy I get to see every day.
“What impressed me about Alec was the adjustments he made, how he improved during the course of the season, and he had to do it in a high-pressure situation,” Girardi said. “Usually, you get to do it in the minor leagues. Well, he was forced to do it at the big-league level and I was impressed at how he handled it.”
The Phillies will again rely on Bohm to produce every day, but this time he’ll join them for a full 162 games and not the final stages of a truncated season. He reported to spring training with 10 pounds of added muscle after strengthening his legs this offseason for a six-month grind.
He played 44 games last season, which means there will be even more information for opposing pitchers to comb through. There will be more adjustments for Bohm. If last season is an indication, he’ll be more than prepared. And he’ll have a dugout full of ears to chew.
“He’s the kind of guy who has the ability to learn, to process information, to apply the information, and he studies other people, what they do,” Girardi said. “To me, that’s really intelligent. You can learn a lot from the people who have been through what you’re about to go through. Everyone’s mind is different and you’re going to handle it a little bit differently, but you can take some cues and what to expect in a certain sense. We have some pretty good veterans who are helpful like that.”