By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer
In 2021, Alec Bohm sucked.
He’ll tell you as much himself.
After a superb debut in the COVID-shortened 2020 season earned him second place in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, Bohm cratered in his sophomore campaign. In 417 plate appearances, the 2018 No. 3 overall pick posted a .647 OPS with just seven homers. He racked up 111 strikeouts and walked only 31 times. The 6-foot-5 third baseman also made 15 errors at the hot corner, tanking his defensive value.
In late August, with the Philadelphia Phillies in the midst of a division title race, Bohm was shipped back to Triple-A in favor of undersized utilityman Ronald Torreyes and his 11 career home runs.
In the season’s final week, Bohm was called back up as a pinch hitter, with Philly somehow only 2.5 games behind the eventual World Series champion Braves. As Bohm watched helplessly from the bench, Torreyes and Freddy Galvis went a combined 1-for-10 as the starting third basemen in a crucial final series.
Atlanta swept Philly to clinch the division. A month later, the Braves won it all.
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If the 2021 Phillies had had 2020 Alec Bohm, they might have been the 2021 Braves. At the very least, they would’ve been a much better version of themselves. But all season, Bohm looked like a fish out of water, a baby deer in the headlights, a supremely talented player unable to adjust to the speed and pressure of baseball’s biggest stage.
“Last year, I sucked,” he told FOX Sports before a recent game at Citi Field. “I struck out, I came in the dugout, I threw my stuff and dropped F-bombs. I was miserable.”
But so far in 2022, Bohm has turned that misery into magnificence. As the Phillies continue to tread water in a loaded NL East, the lanky 25-year-old has been one of the club’s few bright spots.
As of Thursday, Bohm is hitting .311 with a 124 OPS +, right up there with some of the best third basemen in the sport. Most notably, his strikeout rate has plummeted from 26.6% last season to 17.6% so far this campaign, the second-largest year-to-year improvement in the league.
And all that after Bohm lost the starting third-base job to rookie Bryson Stott in spring training.
The season is still young, but Bohm’s comeback from “another failed Phillies hitting prospect” to legitimate batting title contender has been remarkable. How did he go from “benched for Ronald Torreyes” to a vital table-setter for one of the game’s top lineups?
In the offseason, Bohm rejuvenated himself mentally and mechanically by rediscovering what had made him a great hitter in the first place. Alongside his best friend and college teammate, Braves minor leaguer Greyson Jenista, and a private hitting instructor named Jeremy Isenhower, Bohm spent hours grinding in the cage to simplify his swing, speed up his hands and clear his head.
“We were trying to get Bohm out of Bohm’s own way,” Jenista told FOX Sports.
“I saw the s — they wrote about Alec last year,” Isenhower said. “I didn’t believe a word of it. That guy can hit. I’ve said this to him a bunch, but I thought that last year he was just being kind of a baby.”
When the MLB lockout began on Dec. 2, Bohm was living in Clearwater, Florida, near the Phillies’ spring training complex. But once teams and players were banned from interacting with one another, Bohm left the Gulf Coast and drove to the Houston suburb of Tomball, where fellow Wichita State Shocker Jenista had established a winter base.
It was there, at a facility called Premier Baseball of Texas, that Bohm, Jenista and Isenhower got to work rebuilding Bohm.
First, they needed to dig into the video to see why things went so wrong in 2021. According to Bohm, his biggest issue was making contact with the ball too deep in the hitting zone, which led to a lot of weak contact on the ground . Sometimes he would stride forward too far, pushing his contact zone forward and leading to even more late swings. Other times he would overload, coiling his torso toward the catcher so that the “BOHM” on his back faced the mound, complicating his ability to time up the pitcher.
Simply put: His hands were too slow, and his swing decisions took too long.
“I remember looking at thinking, ‘I’m an idiot. What was I doing? Why didn’t I realize any of this at the time? ‘”Bohm admitted.” Part of [figuring it out] was really dissecting where I was in ’20 and where I was in ’21, finding out what those differences were. “
Once in Texas, Bohm squared his shoulders up slightly, limiting his tendency to over-coil during his load, but besides that, he didn’t make any drastic mechanical adjustments with Jenista and Isenhower.
“It was more about getting my body into position on time so I could allow myself to get my swing off,” Bohm said. “Because I showed in 2020 that my swing plays – it works here – so how do I get back to that?”
To improve his swing decisions and hand speed, Bohm, Jenista and Isenhower hit often and hit fast. Around Dec. 7, they started working in the cage together six days a week, sometimes on Sundays and sometimes twice a day.
“We did a lot of high-speed machine stuff, “Bohm remembered.” We got a little crazy with it and would do two machines – one had a slider going, one had a fastball going – to try and simulate a slight pause of an off-speed pitch. “
“Things would get competitive,” Jenista said. “We wouldn’t even warm up. No flips. No tee work. Nothing. Pick up the bat. It’s a fastball machine, right away.”
“Sometimes I’d cut down the distance on them to, like, 30 feet and crank the machine up to get a fastball around 125 mph,” Isenhower recalled. “I have these Lite-Flite balls that create super-high spin and look like they’re rising. I was shooting absolute rockets at Bohm’s entire offseason.
“Something I would say to him all the time was: How fast can you recognize what’s coming? How fast can you make decisions? How fast can you make decisions? We want to make hitting decisions earlier than everybody in the world and be right on every one of our decisions.”
For Bohm, making changes at high speed meant those changes took hold more quickly and allowed him to feel himself improving in real time. The technical progress at the plate also enabled him to start rebuilding his confidence, something he completely lost at times in 2021.
“I’d watch a video of myself from last year, and I’d see a strikeout, and I’d see my shoulders drop,” he said. “I just looked defeated. I couldn’t believe I looked like that – I’m not like that. That’s not what I want to be.”
As his friend, Jenista says he wasn’t gentle with the tough love.
“I told him that the Phillies still believe he’s their best option,” he said. “That team can go spend money on a third baseman if they want to. They can trade for someone if they want to. But they haven’t. It’s up to you, Alec Bohm, to get out of your own way and figure your s — out and help that club win baseball games. “
To improve Bohm’s defense, Isenhower flew in renowned infield coach Nate Trosky from the Dominican Republic. Trosky, whom Jenista referred to as “Arenado’s Guy,” put Bohm and his enormous frame through the paces at the hot corner.
“The first day [Trosky was there], “Jenista remembered,” Bohm probably spent five-to-six hours straight on a baseball diamond at third-base doing infield drills. Then he comes back the next day and does it again. And again the next day. Three days, over 18 hours just on the infield.
“Bohm was like: ‘Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes for me not to go through what I went through last year. ‘”
By the end of the winter, it became clear to all three men that Bohm had turned a corner and was starting to look like his old self. During a hitting session with Jenista and Royals rookie Bobby Witt Jr. in late February, Bohm hit an opposite-field laser beam over the fence in a deep right-center field.
He turned to Jenista and proclaimed, “I’m back.”
Isenhower vividly recalls their final few hitting sessions between the end of the lockout and the start of spring training. On the morning of March 10, Bohm had a particularly rough day in the cage facing Tigers hurler Alex Lange.
“Lange just destroyed him,” Isenhower said. ‘I remember thinking:’ Oh, man, did we do this right? ‘ I thought he was gonna mess Lange up. He wasn’t seeing the ball that day. “
Hours later, the league and players’ union agreed to terms, ending the lockout. Camp was set to start the following Monday. But instead of driving back to Florida on Friday as originally planned, Bohm told Isenhower that he wanted one more training session. He would go to the facility Friday morning and leave for Clearwater straight from there.
“That day, he goes out there and destroys these [guys], “Isenhower remembers.” I’m talking guys that are starting in the big leagues right now. It was homer, homer, homer, double, double, homer. That was it. All he has to do is see it, and this s — is done. “
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But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing since then. Bohm lost the starting third-base job to Stott, who had a surface-of-the-sun-level hot stretch in camp. And in one of his few early season starts at third, on April 11 against the Mets, Bohm made three throwing errors in the first three innings.
You’ve probably seen the video by now. When the crowd mockingly cheered Bohm later in the game after he successfully made a toss to first, he muttered “I f — ing hate this place” to shortstop Didi Gregorius. The broadcast caught the whole thing. Before the game ended, it seemed that every Phillies fan in America had seen the clip.
But rather than running from his mistake, Bohm owned up to it in the postgame media conference. “Emotions got the best of me,” he admitted. “I said it. Did I mean it? No. These people, these fans, they just wanna win. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
The next day, when Bohm came up to pinch hit in the eighth inning, the crowd at Citizens Bank Park gave him a standing ovation.
“Philly fans, they wear their passion on their sleeves,” Isenhower said. “Alec doesn’t. He hides his passion. But I can promise he’s passionate when you guys aren’t looking. What they understand now is Alec Bohm cares.”
Jenista says he saw the clip and was nervous about how the whole thing would play out.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hold my breath,” he said. ‘But that’s the difference between this year and last year. Last year, he would have been like,’ Oh, I didn’t say that. ‘ This year he was confident and honest. “
There’s still a lot left of the 2022 season – not to mention Bohm’s career – but the hard work he put in and the meaningful changes he made to his swing and his mind during the offseason have led to very real improvements on the field. That’s pretty significant for a player who finished last season as an afterthought, as a lost cause.
For Bohm, it’s all pretty simple.
“Being a big-leaguer should be fun,” he said. “Everybody wants to do this. Why should I be miserable? I got out, so what? Why would I let the last at-bat impact the next at-bat?
“Everybody says it, and it might be cliché, but when you start to really understand that, the game gets easier and more fun.”
Jake Mintz is the louder half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most of the Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.
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