As we wait and wonder exactly what the Phillies’ 2021 roster will look like, it should be comforting to know that manager Joe Girardi’s team at least seems set at third base now and deep into the future. In fact, regardless of what additions new team president Dave Dombrowski makes before the season opener April 1 against Atlanta, Alec Bohm will remain the player we should all be the most eager to see this season.
Nothing energizes a franchise more than the arrival of a homegrown star and there are plenty of reasons to believe that is exactly what happened when Bohm joined the Phillies 14 games into the 2020 pandemic season.
He finished tied for second in the National League rookie of the year voting, but Bohm is the NL rookie from the class of 2020 that has the highest ceiling. Milwaukee reliever Devin Williams, with his 0.33 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 27 innings, deserved the award and San Diego’s Jake Cronenworth, who finished tied in the voting with Bohm, appears to be the kind of super utility player the Phillies hope Scott Kingery will become. Would you rather have a 26-year-old reliever and a 27-year-old jack of all trades or a 24-year-old third baseman capable of taking the field 150-plus times a year?
For obvious reasons, Bohm’s rookie season will not be remembered in the same manner as Ryan Howard’s 2005 rookie of the year campaign or even Rhys Hoskins’ one-man home run derby in 2017. There’s no reason, however, to think Bohm’s pandemic-shortened accomplishments in his first 44 major-league games were a fluke.
Remember this about Howard and Hoskins: they both had plenty of grooming at the high minor-league level before stepping into a big-league batter’s box. Howard had logged 192 games at double-A Reading and triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before a Jim Thome injury gave him a chance to show off his power in the big leagues. And Hoskins played 250 games at double-A and triple-A before arriving in the big leagues.
Bohm, by contrast, had played just 63 games at double-A Reading before last season and he still looked like a seasoned veteran. He did not display the same power as Howard and Hoskins did, but his approach to hitting a baseball could make him even more valuable than either player.
In an era when so many hitters are taught to pull and lift the baseball, Bohm used all fields and never seemed focused on lifting the baseball. Only 14.8 percent of his hits (8 of 54) went to left field last season. By comparison, 33 percent of his hits (18 of 54) went to right field and 25.9 percent (14 of 54) went to center field.
Even though he only hit four home runs, two of them were no-doubt-about-it shots to center, proof that he has more than enough power for increased home run potential. Girardi and the Phillies believe that will come with experience.
It’s possible he could bring something to the table that the Phillies have rarely had: the ability to hit for average and power.
The rookie third baseman was just six plate appearances shy of qualifying for the batting title and even if he had gone hitless in those six appearances he would have still hit .325, which would have ranked seventh in baseball. Bohm’s .338 average was tied for fourth in baseball among all hitters with at least 180 plate appearances.
We know in the analytics age that batting average doesn’t generate the same excitement it once did, but it is worth noting that the Phillies haven’t had a batting champion since Richie Ashburn in 1958 and have only had one .300 hitter – Ben Revere in 2014 – qualify for the batting title since the 2007 season.
Bohm, of course, brings a lot more to the plate than Revere ever did. It’s not unreasonable to think that he could hit at least 30 home runs in a single season in the future. The Phillies, remember, drafted him as a power-hitting third baseman out of Wichita State.
While we are on the subject of the draft, we should give credit where credit is due. Matt Klentak made his share of mistakes during his five seasons as the general manager and former scouting director Johnny Almarez missed big on high first-round picks Cornelius Randolph and Mickey Moniak.
The third overall pick on Bohm, on the other hand, looks promising and that’s because they got some great scouting work from Brad Holland, Justin Munson, Mike Koplove, Gene Schall, and others ahead of the 2018 draft. A lot of people thought they should have selected Nick Madrigal from Oregon State, but the Phillies decided they were getting a baseball gym rat with a cool, even demeanor when they selected Bohm.
That came through last season in the most important of times. While Bohm did not qualify for the batting title, he did qualify for the top batting average with runners in scoring position and his .452 average (19-for-52) was the best in baseball. The two guys directly behind him were Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman.
That’s good company and another good reason to eagerly await Alec Bohm’s first full season in the big leagues.