Phillies' Altherr thinking 'big'

Posted: June 20, 2014

AARON ALTHERR sat in the Reading Fightin' Phils clubhouse last Thursday, glued to the television. He saw former teammate Ken Giles make the trot from the bullpen in centerfield and take the mound for the first time at the major league level.

Giles made the leap from Reading to to Triple A Lehigh Valley to Philadelphia in a matter of weeks.

Altherr jumped from Single A to Reading earlier this spring. He could feel how close he was to the bigs.

He was closer than even he thought. He was called up to the Phillies Monday morning, and made his debut later that night when he flew out as a pinch-hitter in the 12th inning of the a 6-1 win over the Braves. He took the roster spot of Tony Gwynn Jr. when he was placed on the bereavement list after his father passed away.

Altherr's stay was short-lived, as he was sent back to Reading yesterday when the Phillies recalled catcher Cameron Rupp to replace the injured Wil Nieves.

Nevertheless, Altherr knew the Phillies had faith in him even before they promoted him on Monday. He has known it for years, as far back as when they first courted him. In high school, in Avondale, Ariz., Altherr was a high-level, two-sport athlete. He was recruited in basketball and baseball, and had a passion for both sports. Toward the latter part of his junior year, he got a letter with a red letterhead. It was from the Phillies.

"When I started getting all the different letters from the pro teams, I knew," Altherr said. "I had one really good, super-serious tournament out in Arizona, and I started getting a whole bunch of mail from different teams. That's when I knew that baseball was for me."

The 23-year-old outfielder said the Phillies and Dodgers were the earliest to show interest, and the most aggressive. He decided to hang up the Jordans and stick to the diamond, much to the dismay of his basketball coach.

He kept in contact with a number of major league teams, and was drafted by the Phillies in the ninth round of the 2009 draft straight from Agua Fria High School. When the Phillies offered a $150,000 signing bonus to get him into their system, he chose that instead of going to the University of Arizona, as he had planned.

As expected with high school talent, Altherr struggled out of the gate in the lower minor leagues. It took him until his third year in the system to get to Low-A Lakewood, but he only played 41 games there before getting sent back down.

In his fourth season, he was in Lakewood to stay. He batted .252 in his only full season with the BlueClaws.

Last season, he advanced to high Single A Clearwater, where he hit .275 with 12 home runs and 69 RBI in 123 games.

He said it took a while to adjust to baseball being his job rather than just an activity he loved.

"The grind of playing everyday was tough," Altherr said. "I was not used to that growing up. I would have a couple days off and just practice. Playing everyday takes getting used to. You just have to know what your body can take and not going too hard some days when you are not feeling that great and pacing yourself."

Now that he is used to playing day in and day out, he can focus on getting better at the game itself. One thing he has struggled with in his journey through the minor league is strikeouts. From 2011 to 2013, he struck out 341 times in 1,302 at-bats.

"Last year I was frustrated, and the year before I was frustrated with strikeouts," Altherr said. "I never was a strikeout guy growing up. I was so frustrated about why I was striking out so much. I think I am starting to figure it out, and not worrying about striking out."

He has improved his approach at the plate, and has been helped by committee. He credits the hitting coaches at Lakewood, Clearwater and Reading for helping him get his confidence back.

"All the coaches have been great and worked hard with me," Altherr said. "Part of it too is just experience, knowing yourself and being comfortable and confident with your swing."

With his swing back on the right track, Altherr received another confidence boost when the Phillies placed him on their 40-man roster, protecting him from the Rule 5 draft in November 2013.

"It was the greatest feeling ever," Altherr said. "That told me that they were looking at me to be in the major leagues for them. It was an honor to be put on that 40-man roster."

Altherr was batting .392 in June at Reading before his call-up, and playing the field at a very high level. After his cup of coffee this week in the big leagues, it is up to him to pick up in Reading where he left off.

Even before he got the call from the Phillies, he knew he was close.

"I am knocking down the door," Altherr said last Thursday. "You can almost taste it, being in the big leagues. You are so close, you just have to keep working and trying to get there."

His hard work paid off once, and now he will do everything in his power to try and return.

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