By just about any measure, Aaron Altherr’s 2018 season has been a disappointment. Despite a two home run outburst in last Friday’s victory over the Miami Marlins, the 27-year-old is slashing just .189/.301/.352 in 2018. In a year where some thought Altherr was poised for a Jayson Werth or Michael Morse type breakout, he spent over five weeks – including the entire month of August – at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He’s now out of options.
And yet, Altherr’s athleticism makes it difficult to move on from him. With the Phillies having received next-to-no answers on the future of their outfield in 2018, Altherr has to be in the discussion for the team’s 2019 plans.
After Friday evening’s game, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler had some interesting thoughts when asked on NBC Sports Philadelphia if the final few weeks of the season will give the Phillies a chance to look more at Altherr while also competing:
“I’ll say this – I think we’ve had a look at Altherr. And just because he hasn’t had the success that he’s wanted to to this point, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have confidence in the overall package, the baseball player that he is. He showed it last year, we’ve seen it in flashes this year, we saw it all in a bunch tonight – we saw everything, right? We saw the speed on the bases, we saw the good jumps in the outfield – he hasn’t played left field in a while, he went out there and looked completely natural out there – [he] saw pitches, laid off pitches, attacked pitches, hit the ball out of the ballpark, hit the ball up the middle. He did everything that you want a baseball player to do tonight.”
As Kapler said, the Phillies have gotten a pretty good chance to look at Altherr. He’s played in just shy of 100 games in 2018, after playing in 107 games a year ago. That’s after spending parts of the 2015 and 2016 seasons with the Phillies. With that said, the Altherr that slashed .284/.356/.530 with 14 home runs and 44 RBIs in the first-half of the 2017 season is very different than what the Phillies have seen this year. That comes after a wrist injury limited him to 57 games in 2016.
Of course, as the Phillies look to build a team that will compete in what figures to be an improved National League East in 2019, general manager Matt Klentak and the Phillies front-office will be left to sift through an outfield filled with uncertainties this offseason.
Altherr isn’t in the Phillies lineup Monday evening, with Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera and Nick Williams instead occupying the three outfield spots. Like Altherr, Roman Quinn, who is hitting .330 in 91 at-bats, isn’t starting Monday night. In terms of talent, Quinn appears to be an All-Star caliber player, but one that’s rarely been healthy during his time in the organization. Though Hoskins has hit 31 home runs in 2018, he’s also graded out as the worst qualified fielding left fielder. It’s not clear if the 25-year-old will remain in the outfield past 2018. Williams is hitting just .200 in September, and while he’s driven in 105 runs in his first 715 at-bats, he has a -13 defensive WAR. And then there’s Odubel Herrera, who after a scorching-hot start to the season, is hitting just .209 since the All-Star Break.
In the end, Altherr’s future with the Phillies may be out of his control. While the Phillies have three years of control left on Altherr, they could trade him if they decide to keep Hoskins in left field and/or are able to lure a major free-agent, such as six-time All-Star Bryce Harper. Altherr has been given a chance to secure his spot in the Phillies future for parts of four seasons. While he’s shown enough for the Phillies to still be intrigued by his upside, he hasn’t shown so much that he’s certain to be with the club a year from now.
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