Alec Bohm will almost certainly be the Philadelphia Phillies opening day third baseman in 2021. Beyond that, his defensive future remains very much in flux.
Though he’s still developing some power, Bohm was an immediate impact addition to the lineup in his rookie season, slashing .338/.400/.481 with 23 RBIs and an .881 OPS in his first 160 at-bats at the major league level. Notably, he was especially clutch in his first taste of the majors, hitting .452 and driving in 18 runs with runners in scoring position.
However, while Bohm shined at the plate, he had some glaring defensive miscues in 2020. It wasn’t enough for the Phillies to bail on the idea of him playing at the hot corner over the long run, though he struggled enough at third base for manager Joe Girardi to be asked about Bohm’s defensive future at the position.
“I think he’s improved a lot,” Girardi said in mid-September. “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.”
Defensive metrics are far from perfect, but they didn’t paint a picture of someone who just had growing pains early at the major league level. While there are a handful of notable plays that Bohm made at third base during his rookie season, he -5 defensive runs saved in 300 1/3 innings at the hot corner in 2020. That’s a rather alarming amount considering that Bohm didn’t even begin the pandemic-shortened season at the major league level.
Of course, it would be best for the Phillies – and for Bohm’s future earning potential – if he’s able to become a league average defender at the position, to pair with elite offensive production. It’s possible, though, that at 6’5, the Phillies will eventually decide that Bohm would be better geared to play another position.
That would be an especially uncomfortable conclusion to arrive at during the 2021 season, if we’re being frank. Without the DH in the National League, that’s gone as an option for Bohm at least this year. Bohm appeared serviceable – or perhaps even better – in 51 innings at first base in 2020, but if he plays there, Rhys Hoskins will be without a position. Hoskins’ offensive production is too valuable to not have in the lineup, and first base is the only position he plays.
There’s also the issue of deciding who would play third base if Bohm moved elsewhere. Whether it would be Jean Segura, Scott Kingery or even Brad Miller, the Phillies offensive lineup would likely get weaker if Bohm played anywhere but third base.
The idea of experimenting with Bohm in left field is something that intrigues some. Left field is viewed as the least stressful of the three outfield positions, and there isn’t a ton of space to patrol at Citizens Bank Park.
Still, if Bohm ever does play in left field, it seems unlikely to come in 2021.
First of all, Andrew McCutchen is under contract for $20 million in 2021, and even if the Phillies don’t plan to have him play 162 games, without the DH, he’ll probably get the bulk of the starts in left field. If there are, say, 40 games where McCutchen doesn’t play in left field, it’s unlikely that the Phillies would use Bohm there on a part-time basis.
Secondly, Bohm has no experience in left field. Maybe his body type would fit more in left field, but if the Phillies wanted to go down that road, it would likely take an all-in commitment. Bohm would spend an entire offseason training to play the position, and the Phillies would get an idea of his ability to play the position during spring training. To our knowledge, no such wheels are in motion.
For better or for worse, Bohm will spend the overwhelming majority of his time at third base in 2021. There may be days where he gets to spell Hoskins or is used as a DH in American League parks, but he projects to play third base for 130+ games this upcoming season.
That doesn’t mean that the Phillies are tied to Bohm at third base beyond this year. McCutchen comes off the books after 2021, so it would be relatively easy to transition Bohm to left field next season if the Phillies wanted to go that route.
The DH may very well be back on a permanent basis in 2022, though everything we know from how the Phillies acted last year and planned to proceed in the event the rule returned in 2021 suggests that they wouldn’t want to have one full-time DH. Last year, Phil Gosselin and Jay Bruce got the most at-bats as DH, but Girardi seemed to like getting players like McCutchen, Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto off their feet on some days as well.
Not only is it unlikely that Bohm would become a DH on a full-time basis in 2022, but probably unlikely Rhys Hoskins would either. That means, barring a trade of Hoskins, that first base probably wouldn’t be open for Bohm to shift to.
So, yeah, the best thing for the Phillies would be for Bohm to show tremendous development at third base in 2021. If that doesn’t happen, Girardi, Dave Dombrowski and company will be left with a crucial decision on how to proceed.
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