With pitchers and catchers reporting to camp this week, baseball season is officially upon us. If you’re like me, the excitement is building within you as it is for the Super Bowl on Sunday night. The Eagles and Phillies are similar in many ways––both made an appearance in their respective league championships, are budding with young stars, and have given the city of Philadelphia reason to hope for not just one, but multiple parties on Broad St. in the near future.
Coming into the season, the Eagles quarterback, Jalen Hurts, gained enormous media attention in Philadelphia and around national outlets. Could he be a franchise quarterback? Can he improve enough to the point where, if you have the right pieces around him, he can help you win a Super Bowl? Or, would this season be the year we realize he’s not the answer? Long story short, Hurts silenced the critics. The 24-year-old finished second in MVP voting and has the Eagles on the verge of becoming world champs. He is the guy––the keys to the franchise are his.
But what does this have to do with the Phillies? Well, the leap that Hurts took this year––from questions about being an NFL quarterback to MVP-caliber player––is a leap a Phillie could have this upcoming season.
Alec Bohm, the Phillies third baseman and former top hitting prospect, is entering his age 26 season that could be crucial towards his career trajectory. Last year, Bohm drastically improved his defense, proving he could stick at third base for the foreseeable future. In addition, he swung the bat well, finishing the year with a .280/.315/.398 slashline and 40 extra base hits. Over the course of his career––and particularly last year––Bohm has benefited from being surrounded by star hitters up and down the lineup. He has never had to be the guy to carry a lineup––like Bryce Harper or June Schwarber. But who’s to say he can’t be in that same category?
Last week, I touched on Bohm’s potential and his need to lift the baseball more. The former top prospect, listed at 6’5” with a knack for hitting the ball hard consistently, should have more than 40 extra base hits a year. Take Nick Castellanos, for example. He and Bohm are similar in size and stature and are known for having high hard hit percentages. Though Castellanos struggled last year––especially when it came to squaring up the ball––in his 2021 All-Star season, he had 72 extra base hits. That’s nearly double the amount Bohm had last season.
Now, the two players are significantly different in how the ball comes off the bat. Castellanos relies on hitting the ball hard with elevation while Bohm prefers to hit low line drives. Both have had success in both of their stylistic approaches, but it is impossible to pretend that Bohm will not have more success if he doesn’t attempt to lift the ball at contact.
With that being said, it’s time to talk about launch angles. I know, once someone brings up “launch angles,” it typically becomes too technical with thoughts of low batting averages, more home runs, and more strikeouts crowding the mind. However, when the right adjustment is made and a hitter understands how to approach an at-bat, the basic underlying statistics are not likely to change.
Going back to Castellanos, his average launch angle since 2019 is between 14-15 degrees––relatively high for an average, but it works for him and his approach. Bohm’s standard launch angle was 5.2 over his first two seasons. Bet you didn’t know he doubled that last year. In 2023, Bohm’s average launch angle was 10.4––showing an obvious adjustment and intention to lift the ball in hopes of unlocking more power. It helped marginally, but what’s more important is that having a higher average launch angle did not have a negative affect on his batting average––which he actually raised from .247 to .280 the previous season. In fact, Bohm ranked in the top 2% of baseball in xBA despite elevating the ball more.
So, where were the results? Well, it takes time to perfect an adjustment––especially when it’s made at the highest level. It also doesn’t help that Bohm typically has a higher average exit velocity when it’s on the outer half of the plate––the place where he has his lowest launch angles. In order to combat this, expect Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long and Bohm to try and tighten his swing to hit the ball harder on inside pitches, but get lower in his hips and legs to elevate pitches on the outer half of the plate. It’ll be interesting to see the adjustments Bohm makes this spring––and if we begin to see more slugging production from the Phils’ former top prospect.
Surrounded by a lineup beaming with star talent, Alec Bohm has the opportunity to hear his name in the same conversation. With the right adjustments, Bohm could not only help the Phillies without Bryce Harper during the first half of the season, but he could alter his career trajectory to being one of the best third basemen in the game. We’ll see if he can make the Jalen Hurts leap in 2023.
Photo: David J. Phillip/AP