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Phillies rookie third baseman Alec Bohm earning praise for defensive improvement

After a two-error inning on Aug. 21 in Atlanta, the rookie handled 28 consecutive chances at third base entering Saturday night's game in New York.

Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm fields the ball against the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 29 at Citizens Bank Park.
Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm fields the ball against the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 29 at Citizens Bank Park.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Alec Bohm made two errors in one inning on Aug. 21 in Atlanta, easily the toughest night of a major-league career that is not yet even a month old.

Since then, though, the Phillies rookie baseman has been nearly perfect.

After every game, it seems, the praise comes rolling in for Bohm. Manager Joe Girardi has lauded the 24-year-old’s mature approach at the plate. Bryce Harper said he looks like a future MVP. But perhaps the highest compliment came Friday night from Jake Arrieta, the veteran sinkerballer whose effectiveness depends largely on infielders making both routine and difficult plays behind him.

“The way Bohm has played third base and the way he looks at the plate, his progression has happened really quick,” Arrieta said, unprovoked. “He’s gotten better and better each game.”

Indeed, Bohm entered Saturday night’s game against the Mets at Citi Field in New York having handled 27 consecutive chances at third base since that sloppy inning in Atlanta. One of his best plays came in the sixth inning Friday night when he backhanded a smash by Mets slugger Pete Alonso, got to his feet, and made a strong throw across the infield.

Hitting has always come naturally to Bohm. He batted .317 with 33 home runs and a .941 OPS in three seasons at Wichita State and was regarded among the best college hitters in the country when the Phillies drafted him with the third overall pick in 2018.

Bohm has lived up to his billing. He had at least one hit in 12 of his first 19 games and was 7-for-18 (.389) with two doubles and a homer in his last five games entering Saturday night.

But scouts have long questioned Bohm’s ability to stay at third base, in part because it’s uncommon to see a 6-foot-5 player at that position. Bohm is built more like a typical corner outfielder. With long hair poking out of his hat and No. 28 on his jersey, he even looks like he could be Jayson Werth’s body double.

It’s telling, though, that the Phillies never seriously considered moving Bohm to another position in the minors. He dabbled at first base in 23 games last year at double-A Reading, but made 111 of his 134 starts at third.

“From Day 1, I thought he’d stay at third base,” said Brad Holland, a crosschecker in the Phillies’ scouting department. “I was all-in. He’s 6-5 and they talk about the center of gravity to be able to get down to the ball. But his hands are really good. He’s really got to prove to me that he can’t play it.”

Wichita State coach Todd Butler heard scouts compare Bohm to Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant, also a 6-5 third baseman. But Butler always had another player in mind when he watched Bohm.

“He reminded me a lot of Troy Glaus when he came out of UCLA years ago,” Butler said, referring to the four-time All-Star who had a 13-year major-league career. “I used to tell Alec, ‘You have to be into every pitch. If there’s 150 pitches, you have to be ready 150 times with your footwork, your prep steps. Defense is what you need to act like you love.’ He took that to heart. He’s really improved, and that’s a credit to the Phillies’ development.”

It’s all part of an impressive package that has put Bohm in the conversation for National League Rookie of the Year, a race that is likely being led by San Diego Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth or Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Dustin May.

Regardless, Harper expects to see Bohm in the Phillies’ lineup -- likely at third base -- for years to come.

“The way he goes about it, his two-strike approach, hitting the ball to right field, he’s going to be a possible MVP player for us,” Harper said last week. “I know that’s high praise, but I believe in him as a player, as a person.”