(Photo via the WSU Baseball Twitter account, seen here)
Regardless of results, the 2018 season will be a special one for Wichita State. After having been a member of the Missouri Valley Conference since 1945, the Shockers moved to the more renowned American Athletic Conference effective next season. While much of the attention of the move focused on Wichita State’s exceptional basketball program, its baseball program looks poised to be respectable as well, ranking sixth on the preseason conference poll, immediately behind a South Florida team that represented the AAC in the NCAA tournament last year.
Among the biggest reasons for optimism is the All-AAC preseason third baseman. After a solid freshman season, Alec Bohm elevated his game in his sophomore season, slashing a stellar .305/.385/.519, ranking in the top 20 among the conference among all three of the triple slash statistics. Perhaps most impressive, he significantly improved his feel for the strike zone over his freshman year, His offensive success carried over upon his selection to the Cape Cod League, where he slashed an even better .351/.399/.513 against more advanced competition, apparently unfazed by the toughest pitching that he had faced in his career. His 31 runs created ranked second in the league, bested only by a player who ranked 11th among draft-eligible prospects for 2018 by Baseball America.
Bohm’s fantastic offensive performance contributed to a successful CCBL season for Falmouth, who won the West Division at 24-19-1. While Falmouth was unable to make any noise in the playoffs, being swept out by Wareham in the first round, Bohm’s performance did not go unnoticed. For Falmouth’s general manager, Eric Zmuda, the ease with which Bohm transitioned to a wood bat league was particularly impressive. Bohm’s on-field success was only one part of the equation, however. Via email to CBBSN, Zmuda lauded Bohm’s off-field professionalism, especially his ease in dealing with coaches, teammates, and fans.
The Cape Cod League also went a long way towards solidifying Bohm’s draft status. CCBL experience (and success) is often a prerequisite for top college prospects, with all five of the top hitters from the 2016 CCBL season being selected in the top four rounds in the 2017 MLB draft. In total, 306 former Cape Leaguers saw MLB action during the 2017 season. Bohm, unsurprisingly, is regarded as an extremely strong prospect in his own right, placing 16th on the aforementioned BA rankings. This is not entirely out of nowhere. In high school, Perfect Game named him as the best prospect in the 2015 class from the state of Nebraska, lauding his power, athleticism, and strong grades in high school. Despite this promising skill set, he went undrafted in 2015, ostensibly due to his strong commitment to WSU. Given his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame, his raw power upside makes sense; he has also translated that into in-game power output, demonstrated by his 11 home runs for WSU last season, as well as his 15 Cape Cod League extra-base hits (in 154 at-bats).
That he draws positive reviews for his athleticism, however, maybe a bit more surprising, as players of his size rarely provide much defensive value. According to one person familiar with Bohm, however, his surprising defensive acumen at third base can be explained by his strong work ethic. Jake Hoover, who coached Bohm for his senior season at Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha, noted that improving his defense was a point of focus. “For being a big guy, he took a lot of pride in his hands and worked extremely hard at getting better at making quick transfers into his throws,” Hoover told CBBSN. He also observed that Bohm has made a physical transformation in recent years, even though his listed height and weight have not changed since his time in high school. “The one thing that I have noticed since he has been to WSU has been his physical transformation. Alec was a relatively strong kid in high school but hadn’t started to get lean yet,” Hoover explained. “He still had some baby fat on him. Since he’s been at WSU, he has become very lean and strong. I think that has played a big role in allowing him to see even better improvement as a player.” According to Hoover, Bohm continues to train with his high school coaches during the offseason in an effort to improve both his hitting technique and his general physicality on both sides of the ball, while also echoing Zmuda’s praise for his skills as a teammate and his coachability.
While Bohm’s draft stock will surely be a point of attention in the coming months, his attempt to lead the Shockers to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years will precede the draft. Along with Greyson Jenista, who was one of the better hitters in the Cape Cod League as well, the Shockers should have a potent middle of the order next season. The performances of their junior stars will go a long way towards deciding how far Wichita State can go in their debut season in the American.