This is not how any of us wanted Aaron Altherr to make his return to the major leagues, as the team loses Maikel Franco. This is also not Altherr’s actual major league debut, as he got to quickly do that last year. However, this is his first real chance Altherr is going to get to establish himself in the major leagues. This call up is 2 weeks earlier than expected, but this may be go time for the athletic center fielder.
Altherr was the Phillies’ 9th round pick in the 2009 draft and was relatively new to baseball at the time. Over his first 5 minor league seasons, Altherr flashed power (.180 ISO), high strikeouts (28.8%), low strikeouts (12.5%), solid walks (8.1%), no walks (4.4%), some speed (25 SBs x2), and good outfield defense. However, things clicked in 2015 as Altherr set a career high in walk rate (10.8% in AA), a near low in strikeouts (15.4%), and a new high in power (.188 ISO) in AA. Overall he hit .293/.371/.480 for Reading before getting the call to AAA. In AAA the walks dropped slightly and the strikeouts went up, but so did the power and Altherr hit .294/.362/.495 over 51 AAA games. His approach did adjust over time and he will end his time in AAA having not struck out in 8 games.
As you would expect given his size (6’5″) Altherr has some leverage to his swing and plus raw power due to it. However, his swing is more geared for line drives than towering fly balls, so he will drive a lot of balls to the gaps for extra bases. He has shown a better feel for contact in 2015 and an increasing willingness to go the other way with the ball. This fits into a much improved approach at the plate that has him working deep counts and taking close pitches. The one potential hole is in on his hands because his arms are so long. This year he has been able to keep from being exploited by fighting off pitches and taking those too far inside, however major league pitchers are going to be able to bust him inside with velocity and he is going to need to work to adapt to that. Overall it is a close to average hit tool with average power (though there is a bit more that could come out in games). Once on the bases Altherr can take a base with good instincts and plus speed.
Given the current state of center field defense, Altherr is probably only above average and not plus in center, but he can certainly play there. With his speed and size he seemingly glides over large stretches of grass. The same attributes that serve him well in the outfield make him a plus defender in both outfield corners. He has a plus arm that plays in right field and is a weapon in the other two positions. There is a chance that as he ages and loses a step that center field becomes more of an in case of emergency position for him, which does hurt his overall profile slightly.
It seems like for now Altherr will play all three outfield positions while getting 5+ starts a week. He might be a better overall player than Odubel Herrera, but Herrera’s value is all wrapped up in him learning center field. If you squint a little you can see Altherr hitting .270ish with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases to go with a pile of doubles and plenty of defensive value. That is a major league regular no matter where he plays. The likelier outcome is that he settles into a role between regular and bench player where he platoons against LHPs (which he has destroyed) and can seamlessly slide into a starting role if you need to give a guy a night off. He is not a piece on the level of Nola or Franco joining the team, but he is certainly a part of the future that the Phillies are building right now.