CLEARWATER, Florida -- Alec Bohm has the process down pat. He should, at least, given how much practice he's had over the past 12 months."Each stop had a one-week transition period, where I'd do OK but not great, and then I'd remind myself, 'All right, I belong here,'" the top
CLEARWATER, Florida -- Alec Bohm has the process down pat. He should, at least, given how much practice he's had over the past 12 months.
"Each stop had a one-week transition period, where I'd do OK but not great, and then I'd remind myself, 'All right, I belong here,'" the top Phillies prospect said. "I'd stop giving the pitchers and other players too much credit, I guess -- not in a bad way to them, but more where I'd think, 'I'm the new guy here, and these guys are better.' It'd take that week transition to get comfortable, and after that, I would move on from there."
Perhaps no Minor Leaguer player had to make that transition as much as Bohm did in 2019. From the South Atlantic League to the Premier12 tournament, MLB.com's No. 30 overall prospect -- ranked as such for his strong hit and power tools -- played for five different teams last season: Class A Lakewood, Class A Advanced Clearwater, Double-A Reading, Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League and finally Team USA.There are first full seasons, and then there are the kind that start in April and end in November. The Bohm that emerged on the other side is not only a better prospect, but also one who might have just one more transition in him -- the one to the Major Leagues.
"Heads and shoulders difference," Bohm said, comparing this Spring Training to his first last year. "I'm a lot more comfortable around the team, on the field in general. A lot more experience, a lot more confidence. I think I've carried over my success from last year into the spring."
Philadelphia's decision to open Bohm at Lakewood last season was a curious one, at the time. The organization had taken the 6-foot-5 third baseman with the third overall pick out of Wichita State in the 2018 Draft. Players of his Draft status, college pedigree and skill set tend to jump straight to Class A Advanced as fellow top-five picks Casey Mize, Joey Bart, Jonathan India and Nick Madrigal did. But according to Phillies director of player development Josh Bonifay, the team wanted to get Bohm settled at a lower level after a knee injury limited him to only 29 games at Class A Short Season Williamsport in his Draft year. Most evaluators also believed he needed the most work with his glove at third base, hence putting him in a place where he could thrive offensively and allow defense to become the emphasis instead.
Bohm responded. Loudly. By the time he was promoted to Clearwater on April 30, he was batting .367/.441/.595 with almost as many extra-base hits (12) as strikeouts through 22 games. Despite the move to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, the right-handed slugger's numbers were almost just as good -- .329/.395/.506 with 17 extra-base hits and 21 strikeouts in 40 games. He was in Reading by late June, which would have been a solid timeline by any other measure had he opened at Clearwater instead. He batted .269/.344/.500 with 14 homers over 63 games in the Eastern League with his power noticeably ticking up.
All told, Bohm finished with a .305/.378/.518 slash line, 21 homers and 55 total extra-base hits over 125 regular-season games in 2019. Three teams in one season, and Bohm was already looking like the fast riser he projected to be coming out of school.
"I don't think there were any benchmarks, per se," Bonifay said. "He performed. He showed us he was ready defensively. His work ethic is unbelievable."
Based on Bohm's responses throughout the year, the Phillies challenged their third-base prospect with a trip to the Fall League and again he responded in kind. Bohm ended up second at the prospect finishing school with a .361 average and fourth in slugging percentage (.528) and OPS (.925) over his 19-game stint in Arizona.
Needing a third baseman to compete in the Premier12 tournament in Guadalajara and later Tokyo and only able to use players not on 40-man rosters in pursuit of an Olympic qualification bid, Team USA reached out to Bohm so he could play alongside other big-name prospects like Jo Adell, Andrew Vaughn and Drew Waters and more veteran types like Erik Kratz and Brooks Pounders. The bid ended in heartache -- USA fell to Mexico, 3-2, in 10 innings in the bronze-medal game that would have punched its ticket to the 2020 Games -- but all involved on Bohm's side feel his final chapter of 2019 only will help him with the challenges to come.
"Any time you play that much baseball and get that many at-bats, you're going to learn more and get more experience," Bonifay said. "Especially with Team USA in high-leverage innings and high-pressure situations, I think it really helps the player. I'm sure there was some fatigue at the end of the year, but he learned what it takes to get ready, work through those games."
Again in unfamiliar territory at his first Major League Spring Training camp as a non-roster invitee, it's taken Bohm a lot less time than his traditional one week to prove himself. The former Shocker is 9-for-22 (.409) with only two strikeouts so far in Grapefruit League play. No Philadelphia hitter has more hits this spring, even if all of Bohm's have been singles so far.
One aspect of his offensive game that continues to come through is his ability to make impressive contact, especially for someone his size. With the way baseball is trending today, sluggers of Bohm's capabilities tend to trade a few strikeouts to keep selling out for power. That's not Bohm's way. His 13.5 percent K rate was third-lowest among qualified full-season Phillies Minor Leaguers in 2019, while his .518 slugging percentage was the highest. In fact, he was one of five Minor Leaguers with at least 400 plate appearances, a K rate lower than 14 percent and a slugging percentage higher than .500. Luis Campusano, Daulton Varsho, Corban Joseph and Yonathan Daza were the others.
"For me, if I strike out, I did nothing," Bohm said. "For me, I hate it. I don't know why. I've always hated striking out. I feel like if I put the bat on the ball, I'm going to give myself a chance to get a hit. It's out of my control. But it's my job to go up there and hit the ball hard. If I'm walking back to the dugout with my bat in my hand, I didn't do my job."
"With baseball today, they know where to position against you and they know where you're going to hit the ball," said Bonifay. "So you either have to drive it through them, over them or over the wall. I think it's a special skill. If they shift on him, he's not afraid to take a single. He's not afraid to hang a breaking ball over the wall. It's a great skill to have, and he's a very special player."
That still leaves defense up in the air -- or seemingly so anyway. Because of his size, it's always been a question of whether Bohm should move across the diamond and play first base. Indeed, he split time between third and first in the Fall League. But he's blocked there by Rhys Hoskins. It seems possible that Bohm could get looks in the corner outfield spots, like Hoskins did in his first couple years in the Majors. However, the player says his work this spring has focused solely on the hot corner, and the Phillies appear pleased with his progress. Case in point: Bohm ended Monday's 3-1 win over the Yankees in Clearwater by charging a broken-bat single up the third-base line, grabbing it barehanded and firing a low sidearm throw to first to get Pablo Olivares for the 27th out.
"I don't see any reason he's not going to be playing third base, at all," Bonifay said. "He's a big figure. He catches balls that are hit to him. He doesn't make forced errors. If he does make an error, he moves on from it. His internal clock is good. He's got good arm strength and pretty good range. When you see him in the shift and he's basically playing shortstop, he makes those plays as well. I don't think he'll be catching balls seven steps to his left or right, but he's done an excellent job at pre-pitch angles and footwork."
That could be good timing as well. The Phillies have used Jean Segura as the primary third baseman this spring, but if Bohm proves ready, he could slide over to second and allow Scott Kingery to be used as a utilityman. Segura, who hasn't played third at all in the Majors yet, could be used as the auxiliary infielder, should Kingery get off to the hotter start. The point is Bohm could easily find his way to The Show if he continues to be solid defensively and put in a repeat offensive performance either at Reading or Triple-A Lehigh Valley to open 2020.
And when he does arrive in the Majors, he might not need that one-week transition period this time around.
"Right now, I feel like I'm right there," he said. I'm right in the middle of it. I'm right in the dugout with everybody else. Look at the lineup today, and it was all big leaguers. And these guys have done a really good job of making us feel like part of the team. Ask anybody here, and they'd say the same thing. Credit to everybody for being very welcoming. I've been able to soak up a lot.
"You see [the Majors] off in the distance, but I just try to focus on what I need to do every day to get ready for the season. Wherever I am, that's going to be my big leagues at the time. Whether I'm at Lehigh, Reading, big leagues, wherever, I'm going to take the same approach to what I do every day."
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.