Oh, how things can change. Going into spring 2016, Aaron Altherr was slated to be the Phillies starting right fielder after impressing in his limited at bats at the end of the 2015 season. That all changed when he tore a tendon in his left wrist during the first week of spring training, and thus, put a halt on his development.
When Altherr returned in late July, he hadn’t played in nearly a year. And it showed. In 57 games, he hit just .197/.300/.288. Altherr’s weak performance combined with the Phils need for experienced bats, led general manager Matt Klentak to sign veteran outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders.
Despite being one of the best players in spring training this year, batting .303 with 10 extra base hits – including four homers in 26 games – Altherr was sanctioned to the bench and, until Kendrick got hurt, was splitting the already limited starts with Daniel Nava.
But Altherr has pushed his way back into the starting conversation. Getting more playing time in the last several days, he’s now hitting .364/.417/.667 with six extra-base hits including a homer in Sunday’s win against Atlanta.
With Nick Williams, Roman Quinn and Dylan Cozens not too far away in Lehigh Valley and two veterans slated in the regular lineup when healthy, Altherr can be left in limbo. The Phillies brass have made it clear that they aren’t going to leave a rock unturned and give every young player a chance to prove himself. So now it must be Altherr’s turn, for real.
If you chalk last year’s disappointing season to his injury, Altherr has shown he is capable of being a major league player. It’s a small sample size, but he drove in 22 and scored 25 runs in just 39 games in 2015. He also stole six bases and walked 16 times. Now fully healed, Altherr needs to prove it was in fact his injury holding him back and he can sustain the numbers he put up in 2015.
It’s a double-edge sword, however. Pete Mackanin has shown that if you play well, you will get more playing time, but if you aren’t getting consistent playing time, it’s difficult to play well. While you don’t want to see anybody get hurt, Kendrick’s DL stint has been a good thing for Altherr as he’s getting some deserved playing time to showcase his skills.
And he’s doing just that. As Altherr keeps the strong numbers up, combined with his ability to play all three positions in the outfield, he should get more playing time.
Still, even if Altherr does play well, it remains to be seen where he’ll fit in the long run. He could be the fourth outfielder or he could force his way into a starting job. Whether it’s with the Phillies is a question for another day.