It wasn’t so long ago that Aaron Altherr was one of the biggest reasons for optimism regarding the Phillies heading into next season. It was early August when the 26-year-old re-aggravated a right hamstring injury that had previously cost him 10 games in July. At the time, Altherr was hitting .285 with 20 doubles and 16 home runs, making him one of the lone bright spots of an impotent (makes me giggle every time) lineup.
Funny what six weeks of Rhys Hoskins paired with Nick Williams can do. Altherr, buried by the excitement of the Phillies’ young prospects swinging the team towards respectability, had become somewhat of a forgotten man.
Until last night.
Altherr stepped into the box in the bottom of the 6th inning with the bases loaded and two outs. Sixty feet and six inches away stood this generation’s greatest pitcher, Clayton Kershaw. Prior to throwing an 88 mph slider on the third pitch of the at-bat, Kershaw had completed 1,922 innings having never surrendered a grand slam. About that.
— Today in MLB (@TodayintheMLB) September 19, 2017
418 feet later, the Phillies had a 4-2 lead and Aaron Altherr yelled, “I’m back, bitches” as he stomped on home plate.
Actually, that last part didn’t happen. But could you imagine if it did?
A quick aside:
Bar I'm at just turned the Phillies game off on a 3-2 pitch to Hoskins with two on and two out. Violation. Amateur hour.
— Bob Wankel (@BobWankelCB) September 19, 2017
Glad I didn’t miss anything. Thanks, Skeeter’s.
Anyway, it was a great moment for Altherr, who had struggled mightily since returning to action 10 days ago. Before the second-deck blast, Altherr had three hits in 23 at-bats, while collecting only one extra-base hit and 2 RBI. It was a reminder that Altherr is a pretty good baseball player. But that got me wondering, does he fit into the Phillies’ long-term plans?
Much attention has been paid to the Phillies’ looming infield logjam, but what GM Matt Klentak does with the outfield also bears watching. The team will likely head into 2018 with an outfield of Odubel Herrera, Williams, and Altherr. But they will certainly listen to other teams calling with interesting offers, specifically to bolster the team’s power. While Hoskins offers premium power at first base, legit home run power is lacking in other spots. Any move to address this would likely occur in the outfield due to the aforementioned infield overload.
It’s a virtual certainty that Williams will be here next season. Herrera’s stupidity is infuriating, but he’s dynamic and cost-effective. Which brings Altherr into focus. It’s true that he’s showed big power potential in spurts, including his BLAST last night [editor’s note: is it just me or are Phillies hitters killing the ball in ways we have never seen before?]. He’s homered once every 20.7 at-bats this season. Drawn over a full season’s worth of at-bats (approximately 550 ABs), that pace amounts to a respectable 26 home runs–except he can’t seem to stay on the field for a full season’s worth of at-bats.
Altherr appeared in only 57 games a year ago after missing extensive time with a broken wrist he suffered while diving after a ball in spring training. He’s missed over a month and a half this season with the hamstring injury. While he’s been productive this season, it’s fair to wonder if his injury troubles are simply a string of bad luck, or a troubling trend.
Klentak could, of course, keep things status quo in the outfield for 2018—there’s no real need to rush a decision on Altherr. Perhaps he plays 150 games, blossoms into prime Jayson Werth, and is a perfect complement to the team’s young talent. But it’s something to keep an eye on this winter.