Aaron Altherr is making his case to be part of the Phillies' future

A year ago, outfielder Aaron Altherr was an afterthought for the Phillies. The 26-year-old had torn a ligament in his wrist during spring training, dashing any hopes he had of being an every day player for the Phillies in 2016. When he came back from the disabled list in late July, he struggled mightily, and ended the season hitting .202.

But the Aaron Altherr the Phillies have been seeing lately bears almost no resemblance to the flailing hitter from 2016. He’s been blazing hot, hitting .338/.427/.631 overall, and providing hits and a little hope for an offensively challenged Phillies team.

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Altherr made the team out of spring training, but was part of a crowded group in the Phillies outfield. Odubel Herrera is a fixture in center field, and they signed Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders in the offseason to help fill in the gaps in right and left field. And it was obvious from the get-go that Altherr was going to have trouble finding playing time. Through the first 13 games of the season, Altherr only appeared in seven games, and grabbed only 14 plate appearances.

But in mid-April, Howie Kendrick strained his oblique. He went on the disabled list on April 18, and the Aaron Altherr era began. Since then, he’s appeared in nearly every game the Phillies have played, and he’s made his presence felt. In the 16 games since Kendrick started his DL stint, Altherr has hit .346/.443/.635 with six doubles and three home runs. It’s a small sample size to be sure (just 61 plate appearances), but he’s already won half the battle: he’s made the Phillies pay attention to him, and realize that he could (and possible should) have a spot in the team’s lineup every day.

Aaron Altherr runs the bases after hitting a game-tying three-run home run in the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, May 7, 2017. (AP Photo)

It’s great news that Altherr is coming alive, rewarding the faith that Phillies fans have had in him for years. But it makes life a little difficult for the Phillies now, and if he keeps hitting, in the future as well. As far as now, Kendrick is going to come back from the disabled list sooner or later. The Phillies have been giving him reps at first base, but that’s not where he belongs. It’s obvious they’re looking for ways to keep Altherr in the lineup, but if Altherr’s numbers demand a larger share of playing time, keeping both Kendrick and Saunders doesn’t make sense. Someone is going to be the odd man out eventually.

And if Altherr is for real, the Phillies have a bigger problem after 2017. They have two outfielders in the minors who will almost definitely be part of the Phillies future core: center fielder Roman Quinn and right fielder Nick Williams. And they already have Odubel Herrera, who they’ve locked up for four more years with an additional two years of team options. If Quinn and Williams turn out to be as good as everyone thinks, that’s too many men in the outfield.

This is a good problem for the Phillies, or any team, to have. What team wouldn’t want a confluence of talented players who could conceivably be part of a competitive core? But it is a problem.

Another problem? Settling on Altherr’s nickname. The Phillies Twitter account has been pushing “Fresh Prince of Altherr,” which isn’t bad. But Phillies Twitter settled on a nickname for the German-born player several years ago.

If Altherr keeps hitting, it’s possible that both he and the nickname “The Rhineland Rocket” could stick in the majors long term.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher