Going into the 2016 season, the general consensus around the team was that Aaron Altherr would be the starting right fielder. The young outfielder impressed at the end of 2015, driving in 22 and scoring 25 runs in just 39 games, and with the Phillies still early in their rebuild, Altherr earned a longer look.
Things quickly changed when he tore a tendon in his left wrist, which required surgery and sidelined him until late July. When he returned he was a shell of the player he showed in 2015. At times he showed the power he had in his limited at bats in the majors but finished the season hitting just .197/.300/.288.
Was his injury to blame or was his first 41 games just a flash in the pan?
In the spirit of the holidays, let’s be positive and blame the injury. Wrist injuries in general often lead to longer recoveries; combine the type of injury with the lack of a spring training, and you get Altherr’s less-than-mediocre season.
Unless General Manager Matt Klentak winds up signing an everyday outfielder, Altherr’s chances of making the 25-man roster as the starting right fielder are alive, considering he’s healthy. What gives him a leg up on some of the others competing for the spot is his ability to play all three outfield positions, which gives the Phils some flexibility to move Howie Kendrick to the infield, if necessary.
Power in the middle of the lineup is a skill that the Phillies desperately need, and if Altherr happens to again show extra-base hit power, it could move him to the top of manager Pete Mackanin’s list. Mackanin has lamented the Phillies’ lack of power – and offense for that matter – throughout his time here but especially this offseason. Altherr’s numbers (9 HR, .365 SLG, .153 ISO) don’t look like typical power-hitter numbers, but that output came in less than 400 plate appearance and 100 games, 57 of which came after his wrist injury. He deserves more of a chance to prove he could be a productive contributor.
Altherr’s greatest flaw, aside from his health, is his tendency to strike out. In his two seasons with the Phillies, Altherr has carried a 31 percent strikeout rate. Strikeouts are normal for a player who has a long swing like Altherr, but 31 percent is high compared the league’s average of 20 percent, per Fangraphs. If you want to look on the bright side, which we already decided we were, Altherr’s 30.4 percent strikeout percentage in 2016 – as compared to his 25.5 percent in 2015 – could have a lot to do with the nearly five months of playing time he missed. A long-term injury can wreak havoc on a player’s timing.
There is little doubt that Altherr will get another chance to show Klentak and the Phillies coaching staff what he is made of. Whether that’s as an everyday player in right or an extra outfielder is up to Altherr … or more specifically, his left wrist.