Aaron Altherr could have gone one of two ways when the Phillies demoted the outfielder demoted from low single-A Lakewood to Williamsport last year.
The 21-year-old Altherr was the Phillies' ninth-round selection of the 2009 draft. He spent 2010 in the Gulf Coast League and with Williamsport.
Last season he began in Lakewood, hit .211 in 41 games, and was sent down to Williamsport, where he batted .260 with 25 stolen bases.
Now he's back at Lakewood and entered the weekend hitting .274 with two home runs and 14 RBIs. Altherr also had 10 steals in 13 attempts.
"It was a little tough getting sent down last year," Altherr said in a phone interview. "I know they know what they are doing, and I decided to make the most of it."
His manager at Williamsport last year is his current manager at Lakewood, former Phillie Mickey Morandini, who was impressed by how Altherr handled the demotion.
"He handled it very well and from day one in Williamsport got off to a good start," Morandini said. "There was never any pouting and he played very well."
The 6-foot-5, 195-pound Altherr throws and bats righthanded. He has played mainly left field, but Morandini says he will be playing all the outfield positions.
The Lakewood manager is also encouraged by the adjustments Altherr has made in his hitting style.
"He is driving the ball a lot more and hitting the ball the other way better," Morandini said. "He has the ability to bunt, has some speed, can get extra-base hits and hit for power, and that will come more and more with consistency."
Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development, sees more growth for Altherr.
"He is not anywhere as close to being as strong as he will be two years from now," Jordan said. "He can play all three outfield spots, is very athletic, and one of the young guys in that lineup that isn't trying to do more than he should."
Ups and downs for Valle
Catcher Sebastian Valle, the No. 3 Phillies prospect according to the Inquirer/Daily News preseason rankings, is taking time to get accustomed to the competition in double-A Reading. He entered the weekend hitting .239 with one home run and nine RBIs. Valle, who turns 22 in July, played last season in high-A Clearwater.
Right now his defense is ahead of his offensive game, although both are a work in progress.
"Defensively he has been pretty good and he is really starting to get better at calling a game," Reading manager Dusty Wathan said. "His progression is still coming, and there are still things to work on as far as receiving, and you are looking for consistency with everything he does."
That same consistency is what Valle is striving for at the plate.
"He will have a day where he looks very comfortable and drive the ball to right-center field and the next day he will try to pull too many balls," Wathan said. "There are flashes where you see something special and then the next day could be a struggle, but he is working hard and that is why he is here, to develop consistency."
Hewitt making progress
Jordan has recently been scouting Clearwater, and he likes what he has seen of outfielder Anthony Hewitt.
The Phillies' first-round selection and 24th overall in the 2008 draft, Hewitt has struggled to hit during his minor-league career. His .240 average last season at Lakewood was his best in his first four minor-league seasons.
The 23-year-old Hewitt entered the weekend hitting .267 with four home runs and 14 RBIs for the Threshers.
"I think I may stay here the rest of the summer because Anthony has done nothing but lay out line drives since I've been here," Jordan said. "He missed time and was late joining the club due to a wrist injury, but everybody is really happy and proud of him."
As with most minor-leaguers, Jordan said, it's all about gaining confidence.
"Anthony is a smart kid and very determined, and it's nice to see him really enjoy a good run here," Jordan said. "He is seeing the ball well and hitting it hard."
Of course, he will continue to work on making contact. Hewitt had struck out 25 times in his first 86 at-bats.
Lehigh Valley righthander Scott Elarton's comeback took another upward turn when he was named the International League pitcher of the week.
The 36-year-old Elarton is 4-1 with a 2.39 after earning the victory in Friday's 4-1 win over Louisville.
Before this year, Elarton last pitched in 2010 for Charlotte, the triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. He was released May 31, 2010, and didn't make a comeback until this spring. Elarton has a 56-61 career record in the major leagues with a 5.29 ERA.
Could he at some point help the Phillies?
"It's definitely a possibility," Jordan said. "He was intriguing in spring training, and the more you watch him you see that he knows what he is doing and his stuff has started climbing. If he continues what he is doing and if we need help, he is a guy who could come up and help us."