In the 2009 MLB Draft, the Phillies selected two center fielders with their first two picks: Kelly Dugan out of Sherman Oaks, CA was taken in the second round and Kyrell Hudson of Vancouver, WA in the third. Dugan, now 25, has reached Triple-A Lehigh Valley and is on the 40-man roster while Hudson is out of baseball after hitting just .224 and maxing out at Clearwater in 2013. Of the team’s 49 picks in 2009, five players’ primary positions were center field.
Six years later, only one was a Major League player for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Ninth-round pick Aaron Altherr survived and outlasted his compatriots in the 2009 draft while outperforming 2008 first rounder Anthony Hewitt and outlasting 2008 supplemental first rounder Zach Collier, who spent 2015 with the Lancaster Barnstormers. Altherr rarely saw his name near or above those players on prospect lists but Altherr persisted and earned his first Major League call-up in 2014 as Phillies pedigreed picks dropped like flies around him, including Domonic Brown.
In 2015, Altherr received an extended look in the Major Leagues and provided value for the Phillies. Altherr began the year in Reading where he hit .293/.371/.480 with six homers and eight steals before being promoted to the IronPigs. With the ‘Pigs, Altherr continued his career year, hitting .294/.362/.495 with eight homers and eight steals. On August 18, Altherr earned a call-up and got his first serious Major League playing time.
And in short, Altherr delivered. While Altherr hit just .241, he got on-base at a clip of nearly 100 points greater while just missing slugging at .500, settling for .489. In the minor leagues, Altherr was always good for steals and in 2015, Altherr picked up six in eight tries. But Altherr found something that came in spurts for him in the minors: power. Altherr slugged over .455 for the first time in his career at any level and it likely came with his the success of making good contact: Altherr made contact with nearly 88% of pitches he swung at within the strikezone.
Altherr had a limited sample size at the plate for the Phils, 161 PA, but it is hard to be anything but optimistic about Altherr’s 2016 season. Altherr played all three outfield positions for the Phillies and earned just one of nine Minor League Gold Gloves issued after being perfect in the field for the Fightin’ Phils and ‘Pigs.
Each year, Altherr has shown progress and has certainly earned his call-up. He will likely receive consideration for a starting outfield role for the Phillies in 2016 and, after his performance in 2015, he deserves it. He has outlasted and, more importantly, outperformed more heralded and most ballyhooed prospects within his own organization to carve out an exciting niche of his own. An intriguing blend of power and speed, Altherr is suddenly a very real option to start at a corner outfield position for the Phillies in 2016.
Grade: B. For a rookie, Altherr was tremendous, the second-most valuable hitter per fWAR on the Phillies and pretty decent compared to most outfielders, albeit in a small sample. The grade is for just his Major League performance – incorporating his minor league stats, Altherr is an absolute A. Altherr could become even better, surpassing outfield colleague Odubel Herrera in the process, but time will tell. But after Altherr’s trajectory and history of catching and surpassing more heralded teammates, would that be surprising?