In a piece for ESPN Friday, Jay Jaffe ranked the position-playing rookies who have made the best impressions in 2020. Six rookies came in ahead of Alec Bohm, who was only listed as an honorable mention.
Bohm has multiple walk-off hits in 2020, and despite not opening the season on the major league roster, he leads the Philadelphia Phillies in doubles. He’s quickly won over the veterans in the clubhouse, with Bryce Harper saying Bohm could compete for an MVP in the future. Jake Arrieta, without being asked, raved about how quickly Bohm has adjusted to the majors after a start last month.
So what gives? Why is Bohm only on the peripheral of discussions about impact rookies? In large part because he’s graded out poorly defensively.
In 270 innings at his natural position of third base, Bohm has made four errors and has -6 defensive runs saved. Bohm has a strong arm, but has often clutched one time too many before throwing to first base. Could Bohm improve at third base? Sure, but it’s fair to wonder how high his ceiling is at the hot corner.
When he was initially called up, general manager Matt Klentak raved about the progress that Bohm had made at third base, suggesting that the Phillies would give him every chance to succeed at his natural position.
“As much as we – the Phillies – were committed to giving him [Bohm] the chance to become an everyday third baseman, he was equally committed and driven to make that happen,” Klentak said. “I think that’s where the credit starts, just with his work ethic and obviously there’s been a lot of folks in our player development staff that have worked with him on that. And it’s come a long way. Look, it’s pre-pitch routine…it’s just the consistency on fielding routine plays…it’s throwing from different angles…he’s worked on all that and turned himself into what we think is going to be a pretty good defensive third baseman.”
When asked Saturday, Phillies manager Joe Girardi said he’s been pleased with the progress that Bohm has made at third base.
“I think he’s improved a lot,” Girardi said. “He had the little funk that he went through, but I think he’s made some good plays and I think he’s only going to get better. Playing third base is not easy, because things happen really quickly. But, I think he’s done a much better job with his feet, which has allowed him to be more consistent in his throwing, and I’m happy with what he’s done, I am. And again, I think it’s only going to get better.”
In Rhys Hoskins’ absence, Bohm has gotten a few chances to start at first base. It’s probably too early make any judgements about whether Bohm could play first base at a high level on a regular basis, but Girardi couldn’t help how impressed he was with the ability of the rookie to adjust.
“He has played some there, not a ton, but I just think that Alec’s a smart baseball player,” Girardi said after Bohm’s first start at first base on Tuesday evening. “…I was watching him in his early work today, and I gotta tell you, I like what I saw in a sense in terms of his comfort level. I just think he’s a baseball player.”
The reality, though, is that the Phillies still hope that Rhys Hoskins can return from a UCL injury in 2020. Even under the worst-case scenario that Hoskins needs to have season-ending Tommy John surgery, he’d likely be ready for opening day in 2021 because the injury is to his non-throwing arm.
Hoskins will be eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2021. He had a slow start in terms of driving runs in, but the 27-year-old has ultimately been very productive at the plate in 2020. In 41 games, Hoskins slashed .245/.384/.503 with 10 home runs, 26 RBIs and 29 walks. When he’s hitting for power, Hoskins is an elite offensive performer.
Could the Phillies attempt to trade Hoskins this offseason for pitching help, be it in the starting rotation or bullpen? Potentially, but he doesn’t play a premier position, nor has he graded out as an effective defender at first base in his career (he has -5 defensive runs saved at first base in 2020). When you factor in that Hoskins is a clubhouse leader and has embraced being the public face of the Phillies, a trade seems unlikely this at this juncture, especially if he needs to have surgery.
Presumably, the DH will be made permanent in the National League in 2021, but we don’t yet know that. If the rule is here to stay, it could be a place for either Hoskins or Bohm to get some at-bats. Both are under 30, though, and the Phillies have seemingly relished the chance to rotate who DHs, using it as a way to get some veterans days off their feet without taking their bats out of the lineup. Jay Bruce and Phil Gosselin have been the two primary DHs in 2020, but can both become free agents after the season. Still, it doesn’t seem especially likely that the Phillies would commit to either Hoskins or Bohm as a full-time DH next season.
One interesting experiment could be to try Bohm in left field. Some feel that at 6’5, he may be too big to be an effective third baseman, but he does have a strong arm and is athletic. The experiment with Hoskins in left field in 2018 failed, but there isn’t a ton of space to patrol in left field at Citizens Bank Park. Pat Burrell wasn’t a Gold Glove left fielder, but he had a strong arm and the Phillies won a World Series with him as their starter at the position in 2008. Could Bohm be made into a better left fielder than Burrell? Maybe.
Andrew McCutchen remains under contract for 2021 at a $20 million mark. He’s going to be on the Phillies in some form, and that may mean he remains in left field for the final season of his deal. However, McCutchen’s defense has taken a noticeable step back in his comeback from a torn ACL. In 402 1/3 innings in left field in 2019, McCutchen had four defensive runs saved. In 253 2/3 innings in left field in 2020, McCutchen has -5 defensive runs saved. In 2021, his age-34 season, McCutchen could benefit from becoming a DH, at least on a part-time basis. That would open the door for the Phillies to give Bohm a shot in left field potentially.
In the infield, there are other things to consider other than what position may best suit Bohm. Didi Gregorius can become a free agent after the season. Jean Segura can play third base and second base at a high level, but may be needed at shortstop if Gregorius isn’t re-signed. Scott Kingery could play second base, he could play center field or he could move back into the super-utility position. After his second unproductive season in three major league campaigns, it’s difficult to know where the Phillies stand on Kingery moving forward. Certainly, the futures of Gregorius, Segura and Kingery could have a direct impact on Bohm.
For now, though, Girardi seems to believe that Bohm will continue at third base in 2021.
“I think we look at him as a third baseman,” Girardi said Saturday. “We want him to be able to do that because it’s better for us. And I think he’s gonna handle it, I do. He’s got a great work ethic.”
We’ll see, after the dust settles this offseason, if the Phillies feel that Bohm will be best served using that strong work ethic to continue developing at third base, move to first base or even experiment in left field. Perhaps it will be some combination. One thing is for sure – his bat will play regardless of what position he plays defensively.
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