Philadelphia Phillies top third base prospect Alec Bohm understands the dynamics of service time manipulation, and he understands the business sense behind holding him back in the minors to start the year, per Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “That’s a smart business move,” Bohm said.
Bryce Harper isn’t quite as accommodating, speaking out recently about the possibility of Spencer Howard – another top Philly prospect – not making the Opening Day roster, per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. With intrasquad games such a heavy component of the ramp-up to Opening Day this season, Harper has seen Howard’s stuff up close and personal – and he’s impressed.
The Phillies rotation is set with Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta slotted into the top spots with some competition for the final two roles. Still, there are plenty of capable veteran arms on hand, giving the Phils some plausible deniability when they decide that Howard needs more seasoning. Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, and Nick Pivetta all spent time in Philly’s rotation last season, and some combination of the three figure to get the early turns on the bump.
Howard, 24 in ten days, has a higher ceiling than those three, but he’s only pitched as high as Double-A – he made just 6 starts in Reading last year after starting the year in High-A. Given traditional development paths, it would be surprising for Howard to make the rotation from the jump – but that’s not to say he’s not capable.
As for Bohm, the 23-year-old is the long-term answer at third base for the Phillies. Like Howard, he made it as high as Double-A last season, hitting .269/.344/.500 across 270 plate appearances. His case for making the big league roster out of camp gained some traction over the winter, but all indications were – under normal circumstances – for Bohm to continue to develop in Triple-A at the start of 2020.
As in the rotation, the Phillies could certainly make room for Bohm if they so desired, but there’s more than enough veteran talent on-hand to make due. Jean Segura and Scott Kingery can split time between second and third, and veterans Josh Harrison and Neil Walker are also in camp as non-roster invitees. Jay Bruce slots in as the regular designated hitter – another veteran totally capable of handling a starting role, even if he might be better suited to the bench. In a vacuum, there’s room for Bohm, but it’s also not against baseball wisdom to give the vets a couple of weeks or more to prove they’re still capable of handling starter’s minutes.
With the shortened schedule, teams need only keep their top prospects off the major league roster for the first 6 games to secure an additional year of team control down the road. The issue, of course, has been hotly debated for years now, culminating in a grievance filed by Kris Bryant against the league. His grievance was unsuccessful. The issue persists year after year with players like Harper taking up the mantle to speak out for the rights of younger players. Service time manipulation of this sort will continue to be a hot button issue until it’s addressed – in some form or fashion – at the time of the next CBA negotiation in 2021.