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Phillies prospect Aaron Altherr: Adding skills to the tools?

Aaron Altherr
Aaron Altherr
Joe Robbins, Getty Images

We published a Torii Hunter Prospect Retrospective back on July 11th. A few days later, a reader asked if Philadelphia Phillies minor league outfield prospect Aaron Altherr could be similar to Hunter eventually. The article discussed how the young Hunter was a raw tools outfielder with an erratic track record who took time to figure out the upper minors but eventually became a very productive big league regular. The reader asked if Altherr could be similar.

There are some similarities, yes, although the parallel isn't exact.

The basics: Hunter was a right-handed hitter and thrower generally listed at 6-2, 195 or 200 pounds when he was Altherr's age. Altherr is also a right-handed hitter and thrower but is taller than Hunter, listed at 6-5, 215. Despite the height difference the physical tool sets are similar: both the young Hunter and the current Altherr feature raw power, above-average running speed, a strong throwing arm, and carry a reputation for excellent defense.

The trouble in both cases was/is hitting. It took Torii Hunter three seasons to master Double-A and he needed another half-season to manage Triple-A and seize full control of a big league job. Trouble with pitch recognition and strike zone judgment held Hunter back but he eventually made adjustments.

Altherr scuffled last year in Double-A (.236/.287/.399, 14 homers but a 26/110 BB/K) but is much better this year (.293/.371/.480 for Reading, .289/.346/.485 since his promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley). It might look on the surface like he adapted more quickly than Hunter did to the upper minors, but that's at least somewhat misleading.

Altherr is already 24 and has only been in Triple-A for a month. At age 24, Hunter already had more than 600 at-bats in the majors. Hunter also showed better contact ability than Altherr: even when he was struggling, Hunter's strikeout rates were considerably lower than Altherr's.

Over at Philliesminorthoughts.com, Matt Winkelman recently took a detailed look at Altherr's 2015 season, pointing out improvements in his plate discipline, batted ball profiles, line drive rates, and a swing that visually looks smoother and cleaner than before. Winkelman still isn't completely sure about Altherr's bat and indeed he's been in a slump since Winkelman's article was published earlier this month, hitting .227 (with zero walks and 11 strikeouts) in his last 10 games, but I agree that Altherr has made some real progress. We need to see if he can sustain it of course and reverse the current mini-slump.

Bottom line: yes, there are some similarities between Altherr and a young Torii Hunter, but there are some profile differences too, both physical and sabermetric. My thinking is that Altherr's ceiling is something like Torii Hunter, with something like Drew Stubbs (with fewer steals) another plausible outcome. The floor would be a Triple-A collapse that he can't recover from, with a midpoint result being a useful fourth outfielder.