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Future murky for Aaron Altherr entering the 2019 season

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Aaron Altherr’s future role with Phillies is up-in-the-air entering 2019

Fans of the Philadelphia Phillies have been focused on potential changes to the starting lineup for the 2019 season for obvious reasons. A team that hopes to become a contender had problems both producing runs and playing defense a year ago, yet battled for the division lead into September.

The club began to make improvents in the outfield with the December free agent signing of veteran Andrew McCutchen. Slotting the 32-year-old former National League Most Valuable Player into left field allowed the Phillies to switch Rhys Hoskins back to his more comfortable position at first base.
The specter of Bryce Harper also continues to hang over the incumbent outfielder mix. If the Phillies are successful in their pursuit of the free agent superstar, he and ‘Cutch’ would be everyday starters on the outfield corners for the Phillies for the next three years, the length of McCutchen’s contract.
Whether the team actually lands Harper or not, this is going to be a pivotal season at the start of a defining period in the career of one of those outfielders, Aaron Altherr.
Signed for the upcoming 2019 campaign at $1.35 million, Altherr cannot become a free agent until after the 2021 season. Unless he is traded or released, he is going to be with the Phillies for the next three years. Having turned 28-years-old last month, Altherr is due to be with the Phillies through what will be the prime years of his career.

Though he only actually lived there for the first six months of his life, Altherr is one of the few European-born players in Major League Baseball. He was born in Landstuhl, Germany to a mother serving in the U.S. Air Force and a father who was a professional soccer player.
The Phillies selected Altherr as an 18-year-old in the ninth round of the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft out of an Arizona high school. Following the 2010 season he was ranked among the Phillies top ten prospects by Baseball America.
Altherr spent the next three years rising incrementally through the Phillies farm system, spending the entire 2012 season with Low-A Lakewood and the entirety of 2013 with High-A Clearwater.
By the time he arrived at Double-A Reading for the 2014 season the big-league Phillies were still trying to transition from the popular, successful core group of players who had been consistent winners in the previous decade.
Altherr didn’t have a great year at Reading, slashing just .236/.287/.399 over 120 games. But his 14 homers, 43 extra-base hits, 12 stolen bases and solid play in center field demonstrated athleticism that the team’s decision-makers at the time saw as potentially valuable.
That summer, Altherr received his first looks at life in the Majors when he appeared in two games. On June 16 in Atlanta he was called on to pinch-hit for reliever Mario Hollands in the top of the 12th inning of a 1-1 tie with the host Braves. His first big-league plate appearance saw Altherr face right-hander Anthony Valvaro and resulted in his making the final out of the inning by flying out to center field.
On July 3 in Miami, Altherr got his first start. He played the entire game that evening and took an 0-4 collar. It would be his last taste of life in ‘The Show ‘for more than a year. Playing well over the first four-and-a-half months of 2015 with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, he earned another shot in mid-August back in Philly.
It was on August 19, 2015 against the Toronto Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park that Altherr finally recorded his first big-league hit. With two outs in the bottom of the first inning, Altherr drilled a double to left field off veteran southpaw Mark Buehrle to score Darin Ruf. For the rest of that season, Altherr would be the Phillies starting left fielder.
Over the next couple of seasons, Altherr struggled to become a reliable, everyday starting outfielder for a Phillies team that had gone into full rebuild mode and had dropped to the bottom of the National League. He missed the first half of the 2016 season due to surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist and struggled on his return.
The 2017 campaign seemed to be a possible breakout one. He missed a month with a hamstring injury in late-summer, but still finished with solid numbers. That year he slashed .272/.340/.516 and produced 19 homers, 65 RBI, and 48 extra-base hits over 412 plate appearances.
In December 2017 the Phillies made one of the most perplexing free agent signings in their history when they inked veteran Carlos Santana to play first base. That signing would have ripple effects on Altherr. With Hoskins moved out left field, it left Altherr as part of a right field platoon with Nick Williams.
Altherr struggled with the new role and was even sent back to Lehigh Valley for the entire month of August. He would slash just .181/.295/.333 with eight homers and 20 extra-base hits over 285 plate appearances scattered across 105 games with the Phillies last season.
It would appear that if Altherr stays with the Phillies for the 2019 season, the best he can hope for is to again platoon with Williams in right field. It’s a tough spot to be in for a player who just two seasons ago looked like he might be breaking through as a legitimate starting outfielder.

The puzzling acquisition of Santana to play first base sent Altherr into a 2018 platoon. (Ian D’Andrea/Flickr)
Now imagine that Harper actually signs with the Phillies. What then for Altherr – or the talented 25-year-old Williams for that matter? Odubel Herrera is signed for the long-term in center field and Roman Quinn, who turns just 26-years-old in May, is as talented as any of the holdovers.
Altherr will play this entire season at age 28 in what should be the prime of his career. If healthy, and if he can accept the role, he could prove an extremely valuable bench player. Still athletic, he could serve as a backup at all three outfield positions. He would also provide some potential pop and speed off the bench as both a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner.
When he was demoted last summer following his lengthy funk, Altherr was quoted by Tom Housenick at The Morning Call on the difficulty that he was having transitioning from having been an everyday player in 2017 to a platoon-bench role in 2018:
In my heart, I wanted to be down here to get at-bats. It’s tough to get up there and pinch hit. It’s not something I’m not used to, for sure. Once I’ve got my confidence, I can do that.
If Altherr still harbors any dreams of becoming a regular starting player in Major League Baseball, short of catastrophic injuries to the rest of the Phillies outfield mix, a trade would appear to be his best personal option. If Harper signs, someone from among the Altherr, Williams and Quinn group would almost assuredly become trade bait during spring training.
One thing that is certain is that with free agency still three years away, where he plays is largely out of Altherr’s control. What he does control is his own physical and mental preparation. Be ready in both regards for the possibility of being a bench player or platoon outfielder in Philly, or even a starter should injuries or a trade come to pass.

His ability to prepare well and produce in the opportunities that he is given this coming season could define the rest of his career, whether that continues with the Phillies or winds up in another organization.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as Aaron Altherr enters a defining period for his career

Phillies 2016 Lefty Bullpen Options

Somewhat surprisingly, the Phillies have announced that starting rotation candidate Brett Oberholtzer is being moved to the bullpen, leaving the 5th starter battle as a head-to-head showdown between Adam Morgan and Vincent Velasquez.
Besides the obvious effect on that rotation battle, the move of Oberholtzer to the pen also muddles an already intense battle for relief pitcher spots. 
Other lefties who have been fighting for a role include incumbent Elvis Araujo and newcomers Bobby LaFromboiseDaniel Stumpf, and James Russell.
Oberholtzer would appear to be a lock to head north once the regular season opens. He has big league experience, is out of minor league options, and his experience as a starting pitcher would suggest that he could provide multiple innings in an emergency.
Assuming that Oberholtzer has a spot as a left-hander, the club would appear to have room for no more than one or two more southpaws. To this point, the three newbies have clearly out-performed the holdover Araujo.
Araujo has allowed five earned runs on four hits across 4.2 innings over five Grapefruit League appearances to this point. He has walked three and struck out three thus far.
The 24-year old made his big league debut with the Phillies last season and was mostly effective, allowing just 29 hits over 40 appearances in which he threw 34.2 innings with a 34/19 K:BB ratio.

Stumpf, who was profiled at TBOH just yesterday by our Mike Azzalina in an ongoing series on the Phillies bullpen candidates, has been the arm that the club has been trying to evaluate the most during the spring. 
He has pitched a pen-high nine innings, allowing 10 hits and four earned runs with a 9/3 K:BB ratio.
The 25-year old Stumpf was the Phillies’ 2nd round choice in December’s Rule 5 Draft from the Kansas City Royals organization. 
He must remain on the big league roster all season, or the Phils would need to either offer him back to Kansas City or try to work out a trade in order to keep him.
LaFromboise has been outstanding to this point in spring. The 29-year old has yet to allow a hit or run over his first six appearances and 7.1 impressive innings. He has also registered an effective 8/3 K:BB ratio.
The Phillies originally added LaFromboise back at the end of January in a move that caused them to release former prospect Jesse Biddle, who just signed with the Atlanta Braves organization. 
He has appeared in parts of the last three seasons with both the Seattle Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Russell is by far the most experienced of the left-handers in this fight. The 30-year old has tossed 330.1 innings in Major League Baseball across parts of six seasons spent mostly with the Chicago Cubs. 
He has pitched little this spring, allowing two hits over just three innings with a 4/0 K:BB ratio.
The Phillies want to see more of Russell now that the season is fast approaching. They have scheduled him for a starting appearance on Saturday afternoon at Bright House Field against the Detroit Tigers in what will be an opportunity to give him at least two innings of work.
Mario Hollands is another left-hander who could eventually push himself into consideration for a role at some point in the 2016 season. 
The 27-year old Hollands is getting set to make his way back from Tommy John surgery last spring, will start out in the minors, and should be ready at some point this summer. 
He tossed 47 innings over 50 appearances with the Phillies back in the 2014 season.
At this point, I would rank the Phillies left-handed options in this order: Oberholtzer, LaFromboise, Stumpf, Russell, and Araujo. 
The middle three arms are so close at this point that performances and health over the final two weeks of spring could become the decisive factor. 
Araujo appears headed to the AAA Lehigh Valley bullpen come April.

Phillies Christmas Stockings: Gifts or Coal?

Phillies Christmas stockings: coal or gifts?
It’s Christmas morning, and all across the Delaware Valley folks are waking to find presents under the Christmas tree and stockings stuffed with gifts. But what about the Phillies? For their 2014 performance, what did we leave in their TBOH Phillies Christmas stockings: gifts or coal?
For the good boys, the good performers who busted it hard all year and held up their end in trying to bring a winner to the fans, there will be gifts. For the bad boys, the poor performers whose play constantly let us down and led most directly to the losing season, there will be only coal. Here’s what every player who appeared in 2014 received:
BAD BOYS – COAL IN THEIR TBOH STOCKINGS 
Domonic Brown: the worst player on the roster in 2014, especially given his playing time. Also, easily the biggest disappointment, coming off what was hoped to have been a breakout 2013 All-Star campaign. His season was a disaster: a .235 batting average, .285 on-base percentage in 512 plate appearances. Hit just 10 homers, scored just 43 runs, and was the worst player on the roster in WAR.
Ryan Howard: a real shame to watch his deterioration. This man was a true force for a long time, 7 dominating seasons from 2005-2011. He needs to be remembered by fans for the peak performance over the long haul. But he is a shadow of his former self now. In 2014 only Brown was a worse WAR player among the regulars. He hit just .223 with a .310 on-base percentage. He was 2nd on the club with 23 homers, and was 4th in the NL with 95 rbi. But in 648 plate appearances, even these are disappointing figures.
Cody Asche: the 25-year old 3rd baseman played his first full season in 2014. He generally fielded his position well, but he basically brought nothing to the batting order of any consequence. Hit just .252 with a .309 on-base percentage. In 434 plate appearances he produced just 10 homers, 46 rbi, 43 runs scored, and stole 0 bases. He only even attempted one steal. That’s zero bases stolen for a 25-year old man. I know that’s not his game, but even 35-year old catcher Carlos Ruiz stole 4 bags.
Mario Hollands: the 25-year old rookie lefty reliever appeared in 50 games. Though he allowed fewer hits (45) than innings (47), he also walked 21, resulting in a 1.404 WHIP and the worst pitching WAR among those given any significant time on the mound.
Kyle Kendrick: I’ve never been one to beat up on KK, as many other Phillies fans have over the years. He is what he is, a #4 starter at best, a #5 on a contender. But in 2014 he was given significant innings, and he lived down to his potential. In 199 innings pitched over 32 starts, 3rd and 2nd most on the staff in those categories, he had a 4.61 ERA. Kendrick allowed 214 hits, and struck out just 121 batters.
It's coal in the stocking for AJ, gifts for Chooch (Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
A.J. Burnett: brought in to be a veteran innings-eating #3 behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, he had to step into the #2 role with Lee’s injury, and he just wasn’t up to it most games. He did eat innings, leading the staff with 213.2, and he struck out 190 batters. But his ERA was 4.59 and he walked 96, resulting in a 1.409 WHIP.
Management: manager Ryne Sandbergwas dealt a bad hand of mismatched, injured, and aging players. But he didn’t do much to bring it together either. If these were grades, I’d give him an incomplete. He needs a more clean slate. But for now, can’t “gift” him. Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro Jr? Please. There isn’t enough of a coal supply available to appropriately fill those stockings.
More coal: John Mayberry Jr, Tony Gwynn Jr, Darin Ruf, Cesar Hernandez, Reid Brignac, Freddy Galvis, Jayson Nix, Maikel Franco, Ronny Cedeno, Aaron Altherr, Koyie Hill, Cameron Rupp, Grady Sizemore, Cesar Jimenez, Wil Nieves, Andres Blanco, B.J. Rosenberg, Phillippe Aumont, Luis Garcia, Sean O’Sullivan, Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin, Brad Lincoln, Shawn Camp, Miguel A. Gonzalez, Jeff Manship, Hector Neris, Mike Adams
GOOD BOYS – GIFTS IN THEIR TBOH STOCKINGS
Cole Hamels: just 9 wins for the 30-year old lefty, but hardly his fault. He made 30 starts, allowing just 176 hits in 204.2 IP, striking out 198 and allowing just 59 walks. It added up to a 2.46 ERA and a 1.148 WHIP, and a pitching WAR value that was more than twice any other arm on the staff.
Jonathan Papelbon: the closer was outstanding with 39 Saves, a 2.04 ERA, a 0.905 WHIP, and a 63/15 K/BB rate over 66.1 innings. Some negative commentary and off-color antics aside, he has done everything asked of him in the closer role since being signed as a free agent.
Cliff Lee: I’m not holding the injury against him, hardly his fault. When on the mound, he was mostly himself. In 81.1 innings over 13 starts, the 35-year old lefty had a 72/12 K/BB ratio. He was hit more than usual, but the excellent control kept his ERA down to a 3.65 mid-level result.
Jerome Williams, Roberto Hernandez & David Buchanan: it’s all about expectation and production for these three. I didn’t expect anything, and I got something, although modest. Both Hernandez & Buchanan received 20 starts, kept their ERA’s below the 4.00 mark, and allowed about a hit per inning. Buchanan had a tidy 71/32 K/BB ratio for a 25-year old rookie, which was especially nice. Hernandez, a free agent who would have left after the season, ultimately yielded a 19-year old pitcher and 20-year old infielder in trade. Not a bad result all around. The 32-year old Williams was a very nice find, with a 4-2 record in 9 starts. He had a 38/17 K/BB ratio, and allowed just 48 hits in 57.1 innings. It all added up to a 2.83 ERA and 1.134 WHIP.
Chase Utley: the 35-year old 2nd baseman returned to the All-Star Game as the NL’s starter at 2nd, and led the team in WAR. A .278 average and 78 rbi were more than anyone expected from a player who appeared physically shot just a year ago at this time. His defense was also strong, as he was 2nd on the club in defensive WAR. A very nice bounce-back season for the fan favorite.
Jimmy Rollins: the 35-year old shortstop said goodbye at the top of the franchise all-time Hits list, and went out much as his longtime doubleplay partner produced. He was 2nd on the club in offensive WAR to Utley, producing a 17 homer, 68 rbi, 78 runs, 28 steal year. Then he yielded a pair of Top 5 club pitching prospects in trade. Goodbye Jimmy, we love ya. 
Carlos Ruiz: at 35-years old, Chooch has caught over 900 games, and he’s starting to show the wear and tear, at least in his offensive game where he hit just .252 with 6 homers in 445 plate appearances. But the respected team leader and fan favorite remains elite in the defensive game, leading the club in defensive WAR. He retains strong catch and throw skills, and his handling of the pitching staff is outstanding.
Ben Revere: the 26-year old centerfielder hit .306 and contended for the NL Batting crown for much of the late season. He also stole 49 bases and hit 7 triples. He clearly uses his speed well. But he has no pop whatsoever, hitting just 2 homers and 13 doubles in 626 plate appearances. His defensive game was disappointing, and will have to improve for him to retain value going forward.
Marlon Byrd: the 36-year old rightfielder led the club with 25 homers and was 2nd with 85 rbi. But his defense was below par, and his offensive production seriously declined post-All Star break as he had just 7 homers and 31 rbi in 247 plate appearances after mid-July. He is borderline “gift” over “coal”, and hopefully yields something of value in trade this off-season that makes us happier to have him on this side of the ledger.
The Bullpen: Antonio Bastardo (28), Jake Diekman (27), Justin DeFratus (26) and most especially Ken Giles (23) had teamed with Papelbon to make this one area of true strength for the team by season’s end. They combined for 233.1 innings in which they allowed just 179 hits. They struck out 294 batters while walking just 92.