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2017 Phillies player review: Aaron Altherr

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Aaron Altherr had a breakout season in 2017, but can he stay healthy enough to be a surefire part of the Phils’ future?

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There were doubts about Aaron Altherr heading into the 2017 season. A lot of them.

No one thought the Phillies should have headed into last year with Altherr penciled into one of the three starting outfield spots. They traded for Howie Kendrick, and signed Michael Saunders as a free agent, and everyone nodded and said this was fine and good. Altherr was No. 4 on the outfield depth chart and, frankly, it felt like the right move.

Sometimes it’s good when plans get blown up.

Altherr was one of the team’s young shining stars in 2017, when he was on the field, and reinforced the outstanding few weeks he spent with the team at the end of the season two years earlier.

In 2015, he hit .241/.338/.489 in 39 games (161 PAs) with a 1.8 fWAR that was 3rd-most among Phils’ offensive players that season. In 39 games. He was handed the right field job heading into 2016, but a bad wrist injury in spring training cost him most of the season and, when he did come back, the wrist was still clearly an issue. In 57 games, he batted .202/.304/.293 in 227 PAs.

But in spring training last year, Altherr looked good. He worked with Matt Stairs to move his hands in his batting stance, and it seemed to make a big difference. And once a nagging oblique injury to Kendrick in late April opened the door for Altherr, he kicked through it.

In 107 games (412 PAs) he slashed .272/.340/.516 with a wRC+ of 120, 19 home runs, 65 RBIs and 58 runs scored. His numbers would have been even better had he not spent most of the season’s opening month on the bench, and had he not missed big parts of July and all but three games in August with a hamstring injury that wouldn’t go away.

Prorated over 162 games, Altherr would have collected 28 dingers and 98 RBIs. Until he got hurt on July 15, he was on pace to be the Phils’ lone representative at the All-Star Game, and it would have been a legitimate selection.

Altherr has missed a lot of time over the last two years. In ‘16, it was a fluky wrist injury. Last year, it was a grumpy hammy. When he was in there, he did stuff like this.

When the Phils’ young core is brought up in conversation, most people look at the guys who have moved from Reading to Lehigh Valley to the Majors over the last two years. They think about Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Alfaro, J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams.

There are obviously good reasons to be fixated on those guys. But Altherr will be just 27 years old next season and should also be considered one of the team’s most exciting young players moving forward.

Among 44 NL outfielders with at least 400 plate appearances last season, Altherr’s wRC+ of 120 was 13th, tied with New York’s Jay Bruce. His .359 wOBA was 11th, and his .516 slugging percentage was 9th. He had a higher OBP than Odubel Herrera (.340-.325), his 19 HRs were 3rd on the team, and his .245 ISO was 2nd only to Hoskins on the Phils.

And even though the defensive metrics didn’t show it (getting less reliable every year these defensive metrics are), Altherr can play an above average defense in the corner outfield spots. He can hang in center field, too (the video below is from 2015).

The Phillies have some interesting decisions to make this off-season, and it wouldn’t be surprising if teams come asking general manager Matt Klentak about the tall right-handed slugger. The Phils have been linked to Giancarlo Stanton trade rumors over the last few months, and if those rumors have any legs, it’s possible one of the team’s existing outfielders could leave for Miami.

The Phillies also need pitching help, and Altherr could be moved as part of a package to secure a young, top-of-the-rotation arm. The Phils have young prospects Adam Haseley and Mickey Moniak (who admittedly had a down season last year) who may not be too far away from the Majors, too. Roman Quinn, who has injury issues of his own, and Dylan Cozens, who was a mess last year, are potential big leaguers who have a lot to prove.

But if Altherr can stay on the field for 150-160 games and duplicate the success he had last year, he has the potential to be an All-Star. He’s that good.

No need to go out and get a couple mediocre veterans this off-season.