Crash Landing: Fighting Pessimism, Looking Forward to Altherr’s Return
I have this habit of defaulting to extreme pessimism for injured players. It’s a deep-seated tendency due both to the innate pessimism derived from my upbringing in the world of Philadelphia sports as well as a learned habit from the recent pain of watching catastrophic injuries dramatically derail the careers of guys like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and, to a perhaps lesser extent, Chase Utley. With each of those injuries, there were initial hopes and recovery timelines to cling to but, in the end, the injuries deprived us from the enjoyment of watching greatness. It’s for this reason, that I’ve spent a lot of this season overlooking Aaron Altherr and I (extremely cautiously) think it’s time for me to stop.
Prior to the start of the season, the outfield was one of the more intriguing storylines for the Phillies. Altherr and Odubel Herrera were to get everyday roles while Peter Bourjos, Cody Asche, and Tyler Goeddel covered the final spot until such a time that Nick Williams could be called up. It was exciting! Altherr and Herrera both showed a great deal of promise in their rookie seasons, but there were also many questions remaining about their games and this was the year to get answers to those questions. While the great plan has certainly worked out for All-Star Odubel Herrera, it didn’t even get off the ground for Altherr.
In the first week of spring training, he made a dive that looked completely harmless. It was a fantastic diving effort that came up just short and Altherr didn’t even flinch at the moment the injury occurred.
As you know, he was diagnosed with a torn sheath tendon in his wrist after making that play. I may not know what a sheath tendon is, but I do know that wrist injuries are less than ideal. Altherr’s injury diagnosis was accompanied by a trip to the surgeon’s table and a four-to-six month timetable for his return. Given the delicate nature of wrist injuries for position players (and my aforementioned pessimism), I mentally disregarded the “four” part of that timetable and did the sad calculations to realize that a six month absence would keep Altherr out until September. Now, he’s showing me I shouldn’t have been so hasty. Instead of this being an essentially lost season for Altherr, he is nearly ready to return to a major league field.
He began his rehab assignment with the Gulf Coast Phillies back on July 8th. Rehab assignments for position players last no longer than twenty days, which means that his rehab assignment will be finished on July 27th at the absolute latest. Assuming the Phillies don’t wish to burn Altherr’s final option year, it’s logical to conclude that he’ll join the team in Atlanta a week from today, if not sooner.
So far his rehab assignment has been going as well as could be hoped. Through 32 plate appearances between the rookie-league GCL Phillies and High-A Clearwater Threshers, Altherr is batting .375/.531/.542. Demonstrating an ability to beat up on recent high school draftees is hardly definitive proof that Altherr is “back” in a meaningful way, but he’ll begin to get tested in a more legitimate fashion when he joins Double-A Reading tonight.
It’s getting increasingly easy to envision a scenario in which the Phillies regular starting lineup over the final two months of the season includes an outfield of Williams-Herrera-Altherr and that’s genuinely exciting. Of course, I’m still carrying around pessimism. I worry about whether or not Altherr’s power will return so soon after a wrist injury. I worry about reinjury. Basically, I worry. But what matters is that answers are coming and coming soon. Jimmy Paredes‘ time with the big club is likely nearing a completion. Bourjos may soon be gone via trade. These openings will present opportunities to watch outfielders who could be in Philadelphia for a long time to come and that’s more than enough to get me to forget my worries and tune in for the second half of this season.