Phils' Altherr ties a bow on his most complete season
Powerful, strong-armed outfield prospect earned a trip to the Arizona Fall League
PHOENIX -- Drafted in the ninth round in 2009 as a high school prospect with an upside to match his towering frame, Aaron Altherr quickly put himself on the Phillies' radar following a rousing first full professional season in 2010.
Standing 6-foot-5 and weighing just under 200 pounds at 19, Altherr hit .297 with 18 extra-base hits in 55 games between Rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League and Class A short-season Williamsport. That type of quality first impression in the Minors got the organization excited about what the future held for the youngster who also displayed speed on the bases and a strong arm in the outfield.
But after the Phils rewarded their prospect with a promotion to Class A Lakewood to begin his sophomore campaign, Altherr took a step back, batting just .211 in 41 games before being sent back down to Williamsport midway through 2011.
Having felt success so early in his professional career, Altherr could've lost his poise at the first sign of adversity. Instead, he remained cool and landed on his feet.
Now two years later, Altherr is coming off by far his most complete season in the Phillies' farm system -- one that earned him a trip to the desert to compete alongside some of the best prospects in baseball with the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League. Looking back on his experience in 2011, the 22-year-old credits a lot of his growth with how he handled the disappointment that year.
"I think it helped me a lot," said Altherr, who is ranked No. 18 on the Phils' Top 20 Prospects list and was placed on the 40-man roster earlier this week. "It helped me know what it's like to live through a failure and then come back from it. I struggled, got sent down and then did well again. It boosted my confidence after that."
Altherr returned to form in 2012, conquering Lakewood with a slash line of .252/.319/.402 along with 25 steals and eight outfield assists before being sent to Class A Advanced Clearwater to begin 2013. There, he put all facets of his game together and turned in a stellar campaign, batting .275 with a .337 on-base percentage in 123 games. He tallied 54 extra-base hits that included 12 homers, 69 RBIs, 23 steals and a staggering 17 assists while playing all three outfield positions.
"I was really happy with how my season went, just experience from playing the game finally kicked in," Altherr said. "It just came to me after a while. I made more solid contact and my arm got stronger. It's all starting to feel like I'm reaching my potential."
Where Altherr and the Phillies would still like to see some improvement is with his plate discipline. Altherr struck out 140 times in 2013, but said he knows the cause and believes it wasn't from going after too many bad pitches.
"I swung a little bit harder this year, and so that little change probably brought those up some," he said. "It's something I'm continuing to work on, and I will get better."
Altherr missed about two weeks of Fall League action with a sprained wrist he suffered sliding headfirst into third base. He returned but hit only .200 for the six-week AFL season. Still, Altherr enjoyed his time in Arizona, where he grew up and attended high school in Avondale.
"I was looking forward to it the whole season -- I was hoping they'd send me to Arizona," he said. "I loved it, my parents were excited to see me play again, it's kind of just like high school all over again."
Phillies pitchers in the Fall League
Austin Wright is ranked 11th on the Phils' Top 20 Prospect List and is in the midst of transitioning from starter to reliever. Mostly a two-pitch pitcher (fastball and curveball), Wright struggled this year at Double-A Reading in 16 starts, compiling a 6.06 ERA and a 5-5 record. An elbow injury also slowed the southpaw down, but he did improve once moved to the bullpen. Wright's ERA in 16 1/3 relief innings was 4.96 but his strikeout rate jumped from 6.6 to 10.5. He surrendered nine runs (seven earned) in 10 2/3 AFL innings.
Kyle Simon appeared in 45 games for Reading in 2013, finishing with 11 saves and a 4.45 ERA as a reliever. The right-hander showed well in the AFL, tossing 14 1/3 innings and allowing just five runs on 12 hits. He finished with a respectable 3.14 ERA.
Mike Nesseth had a breakout season this year in the Minors, starting at Class A Advanced Clearwater before ending all the way up at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Once a 17th-round Draft pick, Nesseth had a 1.64 ERA in 35 relief appearances for Reading in the middle of the season, then tossed seven shutout frames for Lehigh Valley to cap his year. The right-hander struggled in nine Fall League relief appearances, allowing 16 runs (15 earned) on 21 hits in 14 2/3 innings.
Ken Giles tossed only 25 2/3 innings this year for Clearwater out of the bullpen, striking out 34 batters but giving up 18 runs. He worked 10 1/3 innings and recorded 16 strikeouts in the AFL.
Phillies hitters in the Fall League
Cameron Rupp is a third-round Draft pick from 2010 who has steadily climbed the Phils' organizational ladder since his professional debut. The catcher began 2013 in Double-A before earning a promotion to Lehigh Valley for the final 53 games of his season. Rupp hit .269 with six homers and 24 RBIs there, and he carried his strong play to Arizona, where he was 15-for-54 (.278) with six RBIs in 14 AFL games.
Cameron Perkins played 103 games for Clearwater in 2013, batting .295 with 41 extra-base hits and 53 RBIs. The outfielder didn't experience the same sort of success in the AFL, however, hitting just .216 in 18 games.