Williamsport's Altherr: From free fall to All-Star

Williamsport outfielder Aaron Alther as selected for the New York-Penn League All-Star squad last week.
Williamsport outfielder Aaron Alther as selected for the New York-Penn League All-Star squad last week.
Posted: August 16, 2011

THIS SPORTS-WRITING racket requires the occasional silly question.

For example, Williamsport outfielder Aaron Altherr was selected for the New York-Penn League All-Star squad last week. The question went something like, "So, how did you feel when you found out you were named an All-Star?"

He was too much of a gentleman to crack, "How do you think I felt, dummy?"

"I was excited," the fleet 6-5, 190-pounder said. "That's what you try to play for the whole season. When it works out for you in the end, it's a great feeling. I'm very excited about it."

Truth is, the question really wasn't that silly, because Altherr's season was in free-fall by June when he was playing at Class A Lakewood. He was struggling to keep his average above .200 at that point, so it's safe to say that few people expected to see his name on any all-star rosters this summer.

Altherr is a righthanded hitter taken in the ninth round of the 2009 draft. He entered the season as the 10th-best prospect in the Phillies' system, according to the brain trust at Baseball America, after a solid 2010 between the Gulf Coast League and Williamsport. He hit well in spring training this year and deemed worthy of handling a season at Lakewood.

Where he struggled. He managed to hike his average to .211 by early June, but after 41 games with the BlueClaws the organization figured a trip back to Williamsport would help him rediscover his swagger. The Phils sent him back to the Crosscutters on June 10.

"I was a little disappointed at first, of course, but then you realize what [the Phillies] were trying to do, so I didn't allow it to affect me too much," he said. "I just came down here, played hard, got my confidence back and started hitting the ball hard again."

Altherr knew all about the 10th-best prospect thing and the high expectations. It can get into a guy's head.

"I would be lying if I said it didn't," he said. "Yeah, it did get in my mind a little bit. I think I put a little more pressure on myself than I needed to. I felt like I had to meet a certain standard of how I should play the game, which I shouldn't have done. I should have just played my game the way I've always played it. That's my own fault."

He went to Williamsport, didn't sulk, worked with manager Mickey Morandini and hitting coach Jorge Velandia, and turned his season around. Through the weekend, he was hitting .288 in 53 games with 20 stolen bases, tied for second in the league.

"I'm not really doing anything differently, I'm just getting back to what I was doing in spring training," he said. "I was really hitting the ball well in spring training and had to resort back to that.

"The organization has been really supportive. They let me know that they still thought highly of me. They just wanted me to get my confidence back."

It's back.

OTHER STAR 'CUTTERS

Altherr will be joined by three teammates at the All-Star Game, set for tonight in Lowell, Mass., home of the Spinners. Joining him are outfielder Kyrell Hudson (.267, 19 stolen bases) and righthanders Gabriel Arias (1-2, 3.04, 5 saves) and Mike Nesseth (3-3, 2.36). Somehow, lefty Lino Martinez (5-2, 3.12) was overlooked.

RICE IS RIGHT

South Jersey's own Bill Rice is putting up some neon numbers at Lakewood. He arrived from the Gulf Coast League on July 17 and he has looked like Roy Hobbs ever since.

Let's start with his first home run. He hit it Thursday at FirstEnergy Park, a monster blast that cleared the very-tall scoreboard in right-center and the netting behind it. It wound up in a parking lot across the street behind rightfield. Greg Giombarrese, Lakewood's ace media relations manager, estimated it traveled about 420-430 feet . . . maybe more.

Now the numbers: In 14 games with the BlueClaws, he's hitting .405 (17-for-42). He's 15-for-34 in his last 10 games, including seven multihit efforts.

Quick bio: He's a lefty-hitting outfielder and 2006 Washington Township High graduate. He went on to play at three colleges: Maryland, Gloucester County Community College and South Carolina-Aiken. But he actually got the Phillies' attention during an open tryout at FirstEnergy Park a year ago and they inked him to a minor league contract.

He hit a pedestrian .230 in 22 games in the Gulf Coast League last summer, went back to the GCL again this year and hit .306 in 11 games, leading to a promotion. Scouting reports say he can run a bit, has wicked bat speed and power that will show with an extended look.

He keeps hitting like this, he'll get that extended look.

MINOR DEVELOPMENTS

* Hate to keep gushing about Clearwater righthander Trevor May, but when he's on, wow. His latest gem was Wednesday's seven-inning shutout at Tampa. He allowed two hits, whiffed nine and walked one. He's now 9-6 with a 3.22 ERA, but his most impressive stat? How about 178 strikeouts in 131 1/3 innings.

* Lakewood lefty Jesse Biddle did everything he could to keep his team in the game Friday night. Instead, just another hard-luck loss. Biddle (5-8, 3.11), who missed his previous start with a hip flexor, went six innings and allowed just two hits and one run. Biddle has had a mighty strong second half. He's 2-2 in his last 10 appearances with a 2.03 ERA. And he only walked one in his latest outing . . . maybe a sign that he's getting that problem area under control?

* It's back to the bullpen for Reading righty B.J. Rosenberg. In late May, he was moved to the starting rotation and had, well, underwhelming results: 4-4, 5.40 in 13 starts. His last start was on July 27 and he seems to be back to form in the 'pen, where he's 0-1 with a 2.01 ERA in 18 appearances this season. Since returning to the bullpen, he's allowed three earned runs in 11 2/3 innings.

SCHEDULES

Lehigh Valley (AAA, 69-53)

IronPigsBaseball.com

610-841-7447

Tonight: vs. Rochester, 7:05

Tomorrow: vs. Rochester, 7:05

Thursday: at Rochester, 7:05

Friday: at Rochester, 7:05

Saturday: at Indianapolis, 7:05

Sunday: at Indianapolis, 2:05

Monday: at Indianapolis, 7:05

Reading (AA, 60-60)

ReadingPhillies.com

610-375-8469

Tonight: vs. Portland, 7:05

Tomorrow: vs. Portland, 6:05 (DH)

Thursday: vs. Portland, 7:05

Friday: vs. Altoona, 7:05

Saturday: vs. Altoona, 6:35

Sunday: vs. Altoona, 1:05

Monday: at New Britain, 7:05

Clearwater (A, 25-24)

ThreshersBaseball.com

727-467-4457

Tonight: vs. Dunedin, 7

Tomorrow: vs. Dunedin, 7

Thursday: at Dunedin, 7

Friday: at Lakeland, 7

Saturday: at Lakeland, 6

Sunday: at Lakeland, 1

Monday: Off

Lakewood (A, 24-24)

BlueClaws.com

732-901-7000

Tonight: vs. Delmarva, 6:05 (DH)

Tomorrow: vs. Delmarva, 7:05

Thursday: vs. Greensboro, 7:05

Friday: vs. Greensboro, 7:05

Saturday: vs. Greensboro, 7:05

Sunday: vs. Greensboro, 5:05

Monday: at Delmarva, 7:05

Williamsport (A, 32-24)

Crosscutters.com

570-326-3389

Tonight: All-Star Game (at Lowell), 7:05

Tomorrow: vs. Tri-City, 7:05

Thursday: vs. Tri-City, 7:05

Friday: vs. Tri-City, 7:05

Saturday: vs. Jamestown, 7:05

Sunday: vs. Jamestown, 5:05

Monday: vs. Jamestown, 7:05

(Team records are through Sunday.)

AROUND THE FARM

* Lakewood leftfielder Bill Rice (Washington Township High) came into last night's game hitting .405 since being promoted from the GCL on July 17.

* Cody Overbeck hit the fourth walkoff homer in Lehigh Valley franchise history on Sunday night. It was just the fourth homer in 172 Triple A at-bats for Overbeck, a first baseman who was hitting eighth. He had 18 bombs in 233 ABs at Double A Reading to start the year.

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