Alec Bohm was the starting third baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 1 and Game 162 of the 2021 season, and for now, all indications are that the organization hopes that will also be true in 2022.
Joe Girardi — who will return for a third season as Phillies manager — said after Sunday’s season finale that he did notice some improvements from Bohm in his brief return to the major league level.
“I saw some [improvement],” Girardi said confidently. “I saw more aggressive swings, and I told him that today. You know, I liked what I saw. I know there’s not a huge sample size there, I get that. But, as we know, he’s a work in progress, like a lot of our other players. This is something that you always have to try to continue to get better at. But, I did see improvements in his swing … his defense … him being relaxed — I saw a lot there.”
And is the plan for the former No. 3 overall pick to continue to play third base moving forward, despite some notable struggles defensively in 2020 and 2021?
There will be a time and place to discuss Bohm’s offensive regression in 2021 more extensively. His bat was always going to be his meal ticket, and it goes without saying that the Phillies need significantly more than the .647 OPS Bohm posted this season, especially if he’s not going to be a Gold Glove-caliber fielder.
The Phillies as a whole, though, drastically need to improve their defense next season. With -53 defensive runs saved, the Phillies finished dead last in one of the most trusted defensive metrics.
There are others who struggled in this category — Didi Gregorius, Andrew McCutchen and even Bryce Harper — but it was especially unkind to Bohm, who finished the season with -13 defensive runs saved at third base, which was tied for the fifth-worst mark in baseball. Since being called up last August, Bohm has -19 defensive runs saved at third base, which is tied for the second-worst mark among all fielders in baseball.
More traditionally, Bohm had 15 errors in 2021, which was tied for the 10th-worst mark in baseball.
All these marks come despite Bohm missing nearly two weeks in July after a positive COVID-19 test, and spending more than a month late in the season at the Triple-A level.
There’s something to be said for being patient, but for an organization desperate to improve their team’s defense, you may also need to know when to say when. Sometimes players work extremely hard to make something work — the Phillies have consistently touted Bohm’s work ethic — and it just doesn’t pan out.
The Phillies famously experimented with Chase Utley playing at third base and Ryan Howard in left field, moves that would have allowed the organization to keep both Plácido Polanco and Jim Thome. Neither worked out. The best thing that could have happened for the present-day Phillies would have been for Bohm to become an adequate third baseman, but parts of two seasons at the major league level suggest that’s unlikely to happen. That doesn’t mean Bohm still can’t make an impact for the Phillies, but seemingly any positives at the plate would be negated by sub-par defense at third base.
There’s no evidence to this point that the Phillies have gone to Bohm and discussed the possibility of him playing another position, such as left field. With the Phillies likely to decline McCutchen’s $15 million club option for 2021, left field is open. But general manager Sam Fuld said in August that the Phillies didn’t plan to have Bohm make a Ryan Braun-like transition from third base to the outfield “in the very near future.” Bohm told Phillies Nation‘s Destiny Lugardo last week in Atlanta that no one has talked to him about playing anywhere other than third base, with first base occasionally mixed in, and that he thinks pressing mentally affected his defensive performance, not just his offense.
Of course, anything the Phillies said in the waning weeks of the 2021 season about Bohm’s defensive future isn’t set-in-stone. For all we know, the Phillies could meet with Bohm this week and tell him that they want him to prepare to play left field in 2022. Or maybe they’re waiting to learn whether the universal DH will be part of the new collective bargaining agreement, which could pave the way for Bohm to either DH or move to first base, depending upon the organization’s plans for Rhys Hoskins.
If Bohm wasn’t playing at third base, it might allow the Phillies to move Gregorius — who had -10 defensive runs saved and 18 errors in 2021 — off of shortstop, assuming he returns for the final season of his two-year/$28 million deal. Gregorius could either move to third base, or he could move to second base and push Jean Segura to third base, where he briefly played in 2020. It’s unclear then who would play shortstop — it could be top prospect Bryson Stott or a notable free agent such as Carlos Correa, Trevor Story or Corey Seager — but it’s hard to imagine Gregorius being the everyday shortstop in his age-32 season. If Bohm is still playing third base, though, the picture becomes that much more complicated.
In his final meeting with the media Sunday afternoon, Harper had this to say of Bohm’s future.
“…Bohmer needs to figure out this offseason what he wants to be and how he wants to do it. And we need him to be a big piece of this club next year as our starting third baseman.”
The Phillies do need Bohm — who seemed like a blue-chip offensive talent at this time a year ago — to be a big piece of their club next year. But it’s as much on the organization as it is on the player to help him to figure out what he’s going to be and how he’s going to get there.
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