The Philadelphia Phillies claimed relief pitcher A.J. Achter off waivers from the Minnesota Twins.
Now for the two important questions on the mind of any decent fan of the Fightin’ Phils: who the heck is this guy, and can he be of any real help as the team tries to rebuild to contending status over the next few seasons?
Let’s deal with his identity first. Achter was the Twins pick in the 46th round of the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft out of Michigan State University. His father was a draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings.
“I was taken in a round that doesn’t even exist anymore,” Achter told David Laurila of Fangraphs just prior to his 2014 MLB debut. “They didn’t even offer me a signing bonus. It was, ‘Hey, we drafted you, congratulations, but we can’t afford to give you anything right now – unless you’re willing to sign for a plane ticket.’ I wasn’t willing. I was plenty fine with going back to Michigan State.”
Originally a starter, he had a good first full season in 2011 for the Twins A-level Beloit farm club. But the Minnesota organization felt he was better suited for the bullpen, and so began transitioning him there in 2012.
Taking to his new role as a reliever well, Achter has put together four strong seasons in the pen in the Twins’ farm system. Over those four seasons, Achter has thrown 261.1 innings over 164 games, with a 269/86 K:BB ratio, allowing 21 home runs.
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“My slider has gotten a little bit better from a grip Mike Pelfrey taught me when he was down rehabbing, but for the most part my stuff is pretty much the same. My velocity is about the same. I’m usually between 90-93 mph, so my fastball is about average. My offspeed isn’t the best either. If anything, I feel I have a competitive edge on a lot of people,” said Achter in his Fangraphs interview with Laurila.
However, the 6’5″, 27-year old has not produced as yet at the big league level. In brief stints during both the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Achter has a 5.18 ERA, 1.438 WHIP, and 5.89 FIP mark in 24.1 innings over 18 games. He has allowed 26 hits, with a 19/9 K:BB ratio, and has yielded a half-dozen homers.
So, to the second question: can he help the Phillies at the big league level? His arsenal and style would suggest that it is a longshot. Achter has proven to be “an extreme flyball pitcher” according to Baseball Prospectus. Their scouting report on him stated: “Achter uses a decent slider, changeup and cutter to mask his low-velocity four-seamer, but anything he leaves out over the plate in The Show is liable to wind up in the bleachers.“
Achter is an athlete and a competitor, and that has gotten him to the highest level of baseball, competing against the best players in the world. But his ability to stay at that highest level is suspect.
I would expect him to come to spring training to compete for a job with the Phillies, but most likely to end up at AAA Lehigh Valley, hoping to continue his minor league success and be available should the big club need help during the season.
This would not appear to be a signing of any long-term consequence. He is an inexpensive pitcher who has achieved minor league success, has tasted the big leagues, and is competitive enough to stay on the fringes of the Major Leagues over the next few seasons. If he is anything more, I think that the Phils would be as pleasantly surprised as I would.