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Alec Bohm is a trade target to watch for the Mariners

Stop us if this seems familiar: a talented Phillies prospect has struggled defensively and seems like a good change-of-scenery candidate. Why not have that scenery be the great PNW (again)?

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies
Bohm go boom
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Keeping track of the prospects in each year’s MLB Draft is a difficult task, one that often requires me to use mnemonic devices to remember who’s who. I remember 2018’s Alec Bohm, product of Wichita State, because the Wichita State mascot is the Shockers, and Alec Bohm has what can only be described as a shock of blonde hair, the same lustrous golden as the fields of wheat in his home state of Oklahoma. Bohm went third overall that year to Philadelphia, way before the Mariners picked at 11 (hello Logan Gilbert, who has quite the mane of his own), but popped up on my radar again at the 2019 Arizona Fall League. Bohm was so clearly the best player on not just his team, but in the league. He stood out at the plate, certainly, with one of the most advanced bats in the league despite only having a year and a half of professional baseball under his belt, but I was also impressed by his defense at third, something I’d heard was the big knock on him. Yet in my looks, Bohm was as relaxed and athletic at the hot corner as he was at the dish, a team leader on the field and in the dugout; he looked every bit a star in the making.

Scottsdale Scorpions v. Glendale Desert Dogs Photo by Jennifer Stewart/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Following his dominant performance at the AFL and the fact that he’d crushed Double-A Altoona with a 146 wRC+, the Phillies opted to add Bohm to the MLB roster during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season rather than leave him to twiddle his thumbs at the alternate site, and he performed admirably: a .338/.400/.481 slash line, with a nearly 1:2 K:BB ratio (and even at a fairly modest 20% strikeout rate, he was well over his minor-league average). Sure, he only hit four home runs, but for a rookie in a weird season, it seemed like more than enough to make an argument for a spot on the 2021 team.

However, in 2021, Bohm regressed. He lost about a hundred points off that beautiful-if-inflated slash line, his power did not improve but rather fell off sharply, and he struck out more and walked less. His barrel rate dropped to below league-average, and he had one of the worst marks for wOBA (weighted on-base average) in the league—bottom 8%. He was also worth -2 OAA (outs above average) after grading as a fairly neutral defender in 2020, giving those who have long doubted his defensive abilities something concrete to point to. The Phillies optioned him back to Triple-A at the end of August.

On Monday, Bohm’s defensive scuffles came to a head when he made three errors in a game against the Mets, leading to derisive cheers from the Phillies faithful when he did actually field a ball cleanly. That led Bohm to make a comment to fellow infielder Didi Gregorius, which was picked up on camera:

To his credit, Bohm acknowledged the comment and apologized for it after the game, rather than claiming he didn’t say it, which earned him respect among Phillies fans, who dislike someone saying something derogatory about them but dislike weasels even more. The Phillies also bounced back to win this game, and Bohm had a double and walked twice with no strikeouts, so the fans might have been in a more generous headspace to begin with. But, with apologies, let’s revisit Bohm’s errors:

All right, let’s break these down, because the chant of “Alec Bohm is a bad defensive third baseman” has been heralded both by angry fans and media members, and I want to push back on it some, using the basic fielding principles I’ve learned from Mariners infield coach Perry Hill’s famous Six Fs of Fielding (Feet, Field, Funnel, Footwork, Fire, Follow):

  • Error the First: This is just a flat-out weird play. The ball bounces off pitcher Ranger Suárez’s leg, and Bohm tries to make a hero play out of it, instead of just eating the ball like he probably should have, and winds up airmailing the throw over the first baseman. Again, this is not a failure of athleticism—Bohm reacts and reads the ball well, he just makes an error in judgement in attempting to throw it from that position.
    Perry Hill tenets violated: Field (Bohm picks the ball off-balance), Funnel (he never gets the ball to the middle of his chest but rather tries to sling it sidearm), Footwork (his feet are churning around like Fred Flintstone, never set), Follow (his body cannot follow the ball through because he is falling down at the time).
  • Error the second: Bohm overthrows his first baseman on a routine groundout. Again, not a failure of athleticism; Bohm has plenty of arm strength. This is a complete failure of fundamentals. Somewhere Perry Hill felt a twinge and didn’t know why.
    Perry Hill tenets violated: Feet (Bohm is already bent over like Quasimodo trying to field the ball instead of letting his feet do the work), Field (his bad starting position puts him in a bad position to field the ball from a wide base), Footwork (he shuffle-hops on the throw instead of replacing his feet, one of Perry Hill’s core teachings), Follow (Bohm Fires, which he might not be doing correctly in the first place, the ball in the direction of the first baseman and lets his arm drift up rather than following through on his throw with intent).
  • Error the third: This one is the most routine play of the three and indicates the mental struggle Bohm is facing at this point. Also, sorry, a better defensive 1B than Rhys Hoskins hauls that in and tags the runner out.
    Perry Hill tenets violated: idk, all of them? I’m no Perry Hill defensive wizard but I’m pretty sure if you’re trying to throw to first your body should not be pointed to the opposing dugout as you’re going into the Fire part of the steps.

It’s tempting to draw a parallel between Bohm and another Phillies prospect who struggled in the field and was eventually traded to Seattle, but as John showed in his breakdown of J.P. Crawford’s errors before being traded to Seattle, J.P. was always regarded as a strong defender who would stick at the position, and his errors were intermixed with some truly brilliant defensive plays, which he would begin making on the regular after being traded to Seattle and partnered up with Perry Hill. Bohm, on the other hand, has had questions follow his defense since his draft class, with the scouting consensus suggesting he’d eventually wind up at first base.

However, Bohm doesn’t have to be a great defender at third to return value; with his bat, all he has to do is be passable. If you need evidence of his natural power, his first career dinger is probably evidence enough:

With Perry Hill coaching him on the fundamentals, J.P. Crawford covering the lion’s share of balls hit to the left side, and an defensively above-average first baseman, that’s a great combination for Bohm to be an Indigo Girls-approved Closer To Fine than his current situation in Philly, all the while shedding a place he, apology or not, f*%$#ing hates.

The tricky part is the cost. Like Bohm, J.P. was a first-round pick by the Phillies, although 16th overall rather than third; Bohm was in much more rarefied air as a top-5 pick. Also, J.P. was picked in 2013 out of high school, spending four years grinding his way up through the Phillies’ system, plus another two where he flirted with major-league time, collecting barely over 200 plate appearances before being traded to Seattle. In contrast, Bohm graduated through the Phillies’ system much more quickly, spending just a year and a half in the Phillies’ system before the pandemic forced their hand with a promotion. Bohm also has a safer floor as a hitter than J.P. given his proven ability to hit for both average and power; the old saying is that if you hit, they’ll find a place for you, and with the DH coming to the National League, Philly has some roster flexibility they didn’t when J.P. was traded.

But even a DH can’t cover up the clear flaws for Philadelphia defensively; their outfield is three slugging statues in Harper, Schwarber, and Castellanos, and the infield is similarly lead-footed. Newcomer Bryson Stott is clearly the most defensively gifted of the bunch, which displaces Didi Gregorius at shortstop provided the bat holds up; Rhys Hoskins occupies first base, meaning there’s no place to move Bohm to if he can’t cut it at third other than DH, which he doesn’t slug enough for. The most ideal alignment for the Phillies is to have a defensively plus outfielder to slot in to spell their outfielder statues, allowing them to trade off the DH role, rather than having that role choked up by Bohm/Hoskins.

So here’s how the Mariners can help. They trade the Phillies Abraham Toro, giving the Phillies not only a replacement third baseman but also a badly-needed superutility option, along with some bullpen help or some minor leaguers, maybe headlined by Emerson Hancock or Zach DeLoach.

But probably the Phillies say no, they want a win-now option. Should the Mariners entertain a push trade: the 2016 third overall pick in Bohm for the sixth overall pick in Jarred Kelenic?

While Kelenic hasn’t had to endure actual boos from Seattle’s faithful, he too could perhaps stand a change of scenery, especially as he looks to be overshadowed by wunderkind Julio Rodríguez. Already he’s had to endure countless “it’s time to panic about Jarred Kelenic” points of discussion from Seattle’s worst hot-take artists and painstaking dissections of his swing and stance, as the high-profile symbol of Seattle’s “stepback” years has struggled to get his MLB career pointed in the right direction.

For all of Seattle’s strides in developing pitching and infield defense, developing hitting seems to be...not a resounding success as of yet, so making this kind of trade from strength—Bohm, who can already hit, for either some pitching prospects or Kelenic, already a solid defender in a corner—makes sense for both teams. It’s also worth noting that Bohm’s heartfelt apology last night, along with the strong offensive performance in what was ultimately a win, might have bought him a stay of execution among the Philly faithful; perhaps the Mariners are best off just waiting for a less ideal set of circumstances, and pouncing then.

Poll

Who do you trade to get Bohm?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    as much as it hurts, Kelenic
    (205 votes)
  • 34%
    Toro plus minor leaguers
    (402 votes)
  • 16%
    Emerson Hancock plus Zach DeLoach, if the Phillies will take it
    (195 votes)
  • 30%
    Nothing, not a Bohm Believer
    (360 votes)
1162 votes total Vote Now