The scouts streamed into Eck Stadium at Wichita State in the fall of 2017 and the spring of 2018. With a dozen draft prospects dotting the roster, talent evaluators from most of the 30 major-league teams went there to watch them play and book a few minutes to talk.
Alec Bohm offered exactly that: a few minutes.
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Bohm is neither unfriendly nor impolite. He just isn’t a big talker. So while many of his touted teammates, including outfielder/first baseman Greyson Jenista, would chat up scouts for an hour and sometimes even longer, Bohm answered questions succinctly and went back to the field.
“He did not enjoy talking to scouts,” then-Wichita State coach Todd Butler said by phone last week. “He wanted to be in there five minutes, talk to them, and get out and go practice.”
Bohm did say a lot through his play. He demonstrated a knowledge of the strike zone and the ability to hit the ball to all fields that have been evident in the two weeks since he made his major-league debut for the Phillies.
As a sophomore, he batted .305 with 13 doubles and 11 home runs in 58 games, then topped it by hitting .339 with 14 doubles and 16 homers in 57 games as a junior. Some considered him the top collegiate hitter in the country.
These days, though, scouting is more than a talent contest, especially when you have the third overall pick in the draft and it comes with a recommended signing bonus of $6.9 million. When that much money is on the line, front offices want to know as much as possible about a player’s character off the field and mental acuity on it.
The Phillies liked everything that they knew about Bohm based on reports filed by area scout Justin Munson and input from cross-checker Gene Schall, regional scouting supervisor Shane Bowers, amateur scouting director Johnny Almaraz, special-assignment scouts Mike Koplove and Terry Ryan, special assistants Jorge Velandia and the late Bart Braun, and even former manager Charlie Manuel, all of whom dropped in to watch Bohm play.
Still, they wanted to be sure. So the Phillies tapped into a unique connection and got another meeting with Bohm that lasted longer than most other teams’ interactions with him.
“Those 45 minutes,” Butler said, “it might have changed his draft with the Phillies. I know it did.”
Long before Brad Holland began scouting for the Phillies, he played at McNeese State in Lake Charles, La. His infield coach in 1991: Todd Butler.
They stayed in touch over the years. In the summer of 2015, while Holland was at the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M., Butler called to say, “Keep an eye on a kid I signed that’s going to be on campus in a few weeks named Alec Bohm.”
That was the first that Holland had ever heard of the tall third baseman from Omaha, Neb.
It made sense, then, that nearly three years later, with the Phillies zeroing in on Bohm for the third overall pick, Almaraz called Holland to ask a favor.
“They knew the relationship I had with Coach Butler,” Holland said by phone, “and they said, ‘Alec’s up for our first pick. Would you mind going out there and just sit down and talk with him and try to pick his brain and try to figure out more of his makeup and character?’”
Munson had watched Bohm closely for a year, making trips to Wichita every couple of weeks. He talked with everyone he could, from Bohm’s parents to his summer coaches and his coach at Omaha Roncalli Catholic High School. He learned that Bohm lost nearly 25 pounds after his freshman year in college to achieve the 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame that, with his flowing hair and No. 28, makes him look like Jayson Werth’s body double with the Phillies.
From Wichita State strength and conditioning coach Kerry Rosenboom, Munson unearthed this gem: Bohm was the only player on the team to select a five-day in-season weight-training plan (everyone else lifted three or four days per week). When the team was on the road, Bohm would take a picture of the hotel gym, send it to Rosenboom and ask, “This is what they’ve got. What [exercises] can you give me?”
But Munson’s sit-down with Bohm went a lot like many other scouts’ experiences. He asked several questions -- What’s it been like at Wichita State? What do your parents do for a living that enables them to attend many of your games? How do you like playing for Butler? What do you think of the team’s chances this year? How did you evolve as a player after a summer in the Cape Cod League? Do you envision yourself as a third baseman long-term? -- and got the typically direct, short answers.
Maybe Holland could get more. First, though, he needed Butler’s endorsement.
“I told Alec, ‘You need to talk to the Phillies and spend time with this scout,’” Butler recalled. “He said, ‘Do you trust Brad Holland?’ I said, ‘He played for me. I trust him 100 percent.’”
Holland spent three days in Wichita. He recalled his first interaction with Bohm going something like this:
Bohm: “I’m supposed to come over and talk to you.”
Holland: “Yeah, I appreciate that, Alec. I’m with the Phillies.”
Bohm: “Well look, Coach Butler told me that I can trust you, so that’s why I’m over here. If Todd said I can trust you, then I’m going to trust you.”
The conversation continued from there, lasted for about 45 minutes, and enabled Holland to “pick his brain a little bit and try to get to know Alec as a person and what he’s made of.”
Holland concluded that Munson’s evaluation was spot-on.
“For me, Alec Bohm wasn’t about the static going around, the noise of, ‘Look at me hitting homers’ or the press clippings,” Holland said. “I use the analogy that, do you want four quarters or one-hundred pennies? When you’re dealing with people and relationships, there’s only so many people in life that you can trust, honestly. He’s not letting just anybody in the circle.
“He doesn’t give a [darn] about extracurricular people around or stuff going on. Alec, still today, does a tremendous job of blocking out the stuff that doesn’t matter.”
The Phillies chose Bohm with the third overall pick, behind pitcher Casey Mize (Tigers) and catcher Joey Bart (Giants) and ahead of infielder Nick Madrigal (White Sox), all of whom have made their major-league debuts this year.
Thus far, Bohm has been exactly what the Phillies thought he was: unfazed by almost anything at the plate, a work in progress defensively at third base.
Entering Friday night’s series opener against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park, Bohm was batting .317 (13-for-41) with hits in eight of 12 games. He had three doubles, a 446-foot home run to straightaway center field last Sunday night in Atlanta, an .880 OPS, and more walks (seven) than strikeouts (six).
“It’s pretty special to watch him in the box,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “He looks like a seasoned major-league hitter at this point in his career.”
Butler isn’t surprised.
Bohm homered in his first collegiate at-bat. Later in his freshman year, he came to the plate with runners on first and second and nobody out. Butler figured the opponent would presume Wichita State would put on the bunt sign and told Bohm to expect a “cookie fastball” down the middle.
“The first pitch he sees is a curveball, and he hit it over the left-center=-field fence for us to take the lead,” Butler said. “After the at-bat was over, I said, ‘Hey, I told you to sit on a fastball.’ He goes, ‘I was. I just saw the breaking ball come out of the hand of the pitcher.’ From that moment as a freshman, his ability to hit, I never questioned it.”
But Bohm has also been inconsistent at third base. He will make a backhanded stab of a ball down the line and a strong throw to first base in one game, then commit two errors in the next.
The widespread confidence among Phillies officials -- from Munson and Holland to minor-league director Josh Bonifay and general manager Matt Klentak -- that Bohm can improve his defense is rooted in their belief in his strength of character.
“That’s what he wants to do,” Munson said. “It was never like, ‘Yeah, I’ll move off third.’ He was like, ‘No, I’m a third baseman.’ He was pretty clear about that whenever you talked to him.”
That came through in Bohm’s conversation with Holland, too, a meeting that Butler believes cemented the Phillies’ commitment to drafting him.