Phillies Prospect Call-Up Pheature: Outfielder Aaron Altherr
By Jason Slater
This week’s Call-Up featured player is yet another bright spot on our roster that gives Phils fanatics hope for the future, Aaron Altherr.
It’s been an up and down start to the 6’5″, 215 lb. German-born outfielder’s career thus far.
Born to a German professional soccer playing father and a mother in the U.S. Armed Forces, Altherr was taught discipline and athleticism early. That carried the Agua Fria High School product to being drafted in the ninth round of the 2009 MLB Draft by the Phillies.
He would pass up a scholarship offer from the University of Arizona in favor of a $150,000 signing bonus with the Phillies.
He got off to a slow start in rookie ball in 2009, slashing a paltry .214/.283/.286 with one homer and 11 RBI, but stole six out of seven bags. Things improved in 2010, as he split time between rookie & A-ball.
In 55 games, improved his slashline to .297/.339./.411, drove in 25 despite hitting only one home run, but on the base paths was caught on six of 18 theft attempts.
Altherr was an All-Star with Williamsport in 2011, despite a rather mediocre .243/.291/.339 slashline, and only six bombs and 46 RBI in 112 games. He did however swipe 37 bags in 41 tries, good for a 90.2% success rate.
Altherr continued his slow and steady progression with Lakewood in 2012, hitting eight homers, and driving in 50, stole 25 bases, but was caught eight times, and struck out 102 times. The young outfielder began to show more pop, and had .252/.319/.402 hitting line to show for it.
All of this was while transitioning into the more difficult position of center field, after playing mostly left throughout his career.
He moved up to high-A ball at Clearwater in 2013 and improvements with the bat were noticeable. In a career-high 527 plate appearances, Altherr slashed .275/.337/.455, clubbing 12 bombs and driving in 69 runners despite his strikeout total soaring to 140.
On the bases he had a .821 (23/5 SB/CS) success rate. The 2013 season also saw him open up the year playing for the German national team in the qualifying rounds of the World Baseball Classic.
Aaron began 2014 with the Phillies’ double-A affiliate, the Reading Fightin’ Phils. Playing in 120 games, he slashed a disappointing .236/.287/.399, driving in 57, but hit a career-high 14 round-trippers. He began to trade speed for power as well, stealing only 12 bags and getting caught another six times for a dismal .667 SB% for the season.
Altherr made his Major League debut on June 16, taking Tony Gwynn Jr.’s slot as he was placed on the bereavement list following the death of his father, Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn. Altherr would appear as a pinch-hitter in the 12th inning, flying out to center. He was sent back to Reading three days later when Gwynn, Jr. returned.
The centerfielder would go on to split the first four months of 2015 between AA-Reading and AAA-Lehigh Valley, showing improved production and power at both levels.
He was finally recalled to Philly on August 18th, and collected his first Major League hit the following night, an RBI double off of Toronto lefty Mark Buehrle. He wasted no time hitting his first big league homer either, clubbing one in the same game off of reliever Bo Schultz.
On September 25, he hit an inside-the-park grand slam of the Nats’ Jordan Zimmerman, just the 225th in MLB history, and the first since the Rays’ Randy Winn, all the way back in 1999.
He would add another homer in the 5th inning, becoming the first player to hit an inside-the-park granny and a second home run in the same game since the Rangers’ Bob Browser had done it 28 years earlier.
He would finish the year retaining his ‘rookie’ status, slashing a solid .241/.338/.489, with .829 OPS and impressively knocked in 22 with five HR in only 39 games. Altherr managed to accrue 1.7 wins above replacement (WAR) in just those 39 games, and also there in six steals to boot.
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Altherr began 2016 on the big league spring training roster, but tore a ligament in his left wrist and would forced to miss the first four months of the season. Altherr tore it up in a 13-game rehab stint, putting up a .341/.481/.463 slash line, with a homer and six RBI, adding in a stolen base as well.
He was activated on July 28, and paid immediate dividends, going 3-for-4, with a homer and two RBI in a win at Atlanta. His biggest game thus far was in the Phils romp of Madison Bumgarner and the Giants on August 2, another three-hit affair for Altherr, in which he smacked a home run, and knocked in five RBI.
It seems as though the young rookie performs better with better protection in the lineup in front of him (no surprise), as he’s hitting an poor .219/.286/.375 from the ‘2-spot’, and an unacceptable .238/.273/.286 hitting third.
When manager Pete MacKanin drops him down to the ‘5-spot’, those numbers jump up to .278/.409/.444. He’s crushing lefties (.304/.407/.522 in 27 PA), but struggling mightily against righties (.232/.283/.357). He’s hit better for average at ‘The Bank’ (.282/.333/.385), but has had better power in away games (.225/.311/.425).
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Altherr also seems to benefit from the confidence boost of getting the nod in center (.300/.391/.550), as opposed to the corners (.227/.306/.386 in right, .267/.267/.267 in left).
This all adds up to the 87 major league plate appearances that Altherr has taken so far in 2016, resulting in three home runs, with 15 runners driven in, three doubles, and a slightly above average .253/.322/.405 slashline. He has been successful on all five of his stolen base attempts so far.
Like most young hitters in today’s game, he could afford to cut down on the K’s, striking out 3.7 times as much as he walks (26 K, seven BB).
Over the course of his seven minor league seasons, Altherr has made only 13 errors in the outfield and posted solid numbers at the dish, 159 doubles, 27 triples, and 57 home runs helping to drive in 333 runs. He has swiped 134 bags at a .798 clip and slashed .263/.325/.414. His strikeouts are nothing new, as he’s accumulated 601 of them over a six-plus season span.
If you were ranking depth in the Phillies organization, the starting pitching would rank first. But the outfield is a ‘closer than you think’ second, and the right-handed hitting Altherr, is a huge reason why.
Between his play in the outfield and Odubal Herrera’s recent, there’s been talk of moving Aaron to center. Herrera in turn would over to left full-time.
If Altherr continues to develop at his current rate, cuts down on the K’s, and can maintain more consistency at the plate, he has the skill set that as he comes up on his prime years.
He won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2019, and could become a name we hear quite frequently at Citizens Bank Park over the next several seasons.