For a few hours, Alec Bohm’s demotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley Sunday was the story surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies. Then, Rhys Hoskins — activated in corresponding move as Bohm was optioned — homered twice, helping the Phillies to complete the series victory over the San Diego Padres.
The “next man up” culture in professional sports gives and it takes. It was a blessing for Bohm last August when Edgar Garcia was designated for assignment, paving the way for him to make his major league debut and ultimately finish in a tie for second in National League Rookie of the Year voting. Sunday, it was a curse, as the Phillies moved forward without Bohm, who is in the midst of a disastrous sophomore season.
Bohm has 16 total errors in 2021, and -13 defensive runs saved between third base and first base. Since the start of the 2020 season, Bohm has -17 defensive runs saved, tied for the second most among all position players in baseball. Increasingly, you get the feeling that Bohm’s future won’t be at first base or left field, but as a full-time DH.
While the Phillies would obviously prefer that Bohm had found a defensive position that he could stick at (especially if it had been third base), there’s still a very real chance that the DH comes to the National League on a full-time basis in 2022 as part of a new collective bargaining agreement. If Bohm had continued to progress as an offensive player in his first full major league season, the realization that he’s probably not a major league defender hardly would have felt like the end of the world.
The problem is that Bohm has struggled nearly as much at the plate as in the field in 2021.
It would have been unreasonable to think that Bohm would keep up the .338/.400/.481 slash line that he had in his first 44 major league games, but the .245/.302/.342 mark that he has put forward in 111 games this season has hardly been regressing to the mean. At least the Phillies hope it hasn’t.
Bohm has quite a bit of power potential, as evidenced by the fact that his home runs this season have travelled an average distance of 386 feet in 2021. The problem is that Bohm has just seven home runs in 2021, having gone all of June and August without leaving the yard once.
Perhaps even if Bohm is capable of eventually hitting 30 home runs in a season, expecting him to make that type of jump in one year was unfair. But seven, well, that isn’t going to cut it, especially when you’re not hitting for a high average or working a ton of walks. Last year, you felt like if Bohm was able to put up an .881 OPS without hitting a ton of home runs, he could be a really special offensive player once he tapped into his power. Maybe that will still be the case, but Bohm’s OPS has regressed to an underwhelming .645 in 2021.
Nearly 24 hours after Bohm’s demotion, Phillies manager Joe Girardi acknowledged that some of the immense projections put on Bohm after he had a ton of initial success — and Bohm’s awareness of said expectations — may have contributed to him seemingly pressing both offensively and defensively in 2021.
“…But I think more important is that he goes and has some fun again,” Girardi said Monday on MLB Network Radio. “I think that sometimes things change in life. When you come up and have a really good year, then the expectations become really high. And he hit .338 — I mean how much better can you do? But people were expecting him to take that next step and to hit a bunch of home runs … to be a 30-home run guy and probably hit over 300 and be a middle-of-the-order bat. And it’s not that easy. I mean, this is a really, really tough game. I think that maybe the expectations got a little heavy, I think that he stopped having fun. And being able to turn the page in this game — from at-bat to at-bat … from defensive play to defensive play — is really important.
“I’m dying for him to get going and to get back what we had, because he’s a force in our lineup that we need. He’s another guy that makes our lineup really deep. I believe that this kid is going to be really successful … he’s gonna have a great, long career … I think he’s going to be an All-Star — I just think he needs to go have fun again, work a few things out and come back and help us.”
It’s true, a mental reset for Bohm could prove to be the best thing for the 25-year-old. The Phillies badly need him to get right offensively. There’s nothing they can do about the fact that things haven’t worked out at third base — he’s worked hard, but sometimes that’s not enough at this level. Right now, there’s not a DH in the National League, so the best the Phillies can hope for is that Bohm can return in September and hit enough for them to overcome any defensive misplays he may have at either corner infield position.
Even if the DH comes to the National League permanently in 2022, Bohm will need to make leaps and bounds to force the Phillies to use him as their full-time DH. Very few players in baseball history have had lengthy careers where they were primarily just a DH. Bohm hasn’t shown the ability to hit for consistent power like Frank Thomas, David Ortiz or Nelson Cruz. And in 2021, he’s hardly hit for contact and gotten on base like Edgar Martínez.
For now, Bohm will see his first ever extended action at Triple-A. We may eventually look back at this as the moment that he cleared his mind, paving the way for him to return an become a player that hits in the middle of the Phillies lineup for a decade. In the meantime, though, the Phillies move forward without a player who looked like a cornerstone of the franchise six months ago, hoping to snap a playoff drought that’s dangerously close to reaching double digits.
- After 25 starts, Zack Wheeler has a 2.77 ERA, 2.53 FIP and 5.8 fWAR across 168 2/3 innings. The 31-year-old currently has the third-best odds to win the National League Cy Young Award, trailing Walker Buehler and Corbin Burnes.
- It will be interesting to see how the Phillies approach the backup catcher position in 2022. Andrew Knapp has one year remaining of arbitration, calls a tremendous game and is a respected clubhouse presence. However, he’s hitting just .153 with a .435 OPS this season. The guess here is that he’ll be back with the Phillies in 2022, especially considering that while Rafael Marchan is an excellent defender, he’s hitting just .192 between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2021.
- Andrew McCutchen is hitting just .103 with 16 strikeouts in 39 at-bats in August. The five-time All-Star has had stretches this year where he’s still been a very valuable offensive contributor, but if feels likely that the Phillies him a $3 million buyout in 2022, rather than picking up his $15 million option. The 34-year-old’s career will almost certainly continue as a DH and/or part time left fielder in 2022, but the Phillies already have more than enough candidates that fit that description.
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