It was big blow for Aaron Altherr when he was demoted to Williamsport earlier this summer. The lanky outfielder put his name on the Phillies' prospect map with a stellar 2010 season between the Gulf Coast League and Williamsport.
He was viewed so favorably that Baseball America named him the 10th best Phillies' prospect during the offseason. That was something Altherr wished he hadn't seen.
The 20-year old outfielder went to Lakewood this year with a burden of pressure on his shoulders that was of his own doing. He felt a need to prove himself playing on a new, higher level. Standing in the dugout following batting practice Sunday afternoon, he said he knew the pressure he was putting on himself was unnecessary.
"I felt like I needed to prove something when I really didn't need to," Altherr said. "It was nice to see (that I was the 10th-ranked prospect), but I wish I hadn't seen it. It's just another thing that just adds more pressure and it probably shouldn't."
Altherr has rebounded in a big way since joining the Crosscutters for the start of the New York-Penn League season. He's been on of the most consistent performers at the plate for the Cutters, and coming into Sunday's opener of a five-game homestand, he was hitting .279, which was third-best on the team.
The Phillies didn't send Altherr to Williamsport with anything specific to work on his game. In fact, they like what they have in Altherr: a plus defender with good contact skills and a little pop in his bat.
"It was just confidence they wanted me to get back," Altherr said. "It was a fresh start to a new season to get back to what I was doing before."
He feels like he's gotten that confidence back. He hit three home runs - one in each game - in the three-game series at Brooklyn last week. Prior to that series, he had just three home runs in his professional career since being drafted in the ninth round out of high school in 2009.
His five home runs leads a team that has hit just 16 homers in 49 games. It's the part of his game that has taken the most time to come around, but he feels like he's finally getting the power in his stroke.
He's got a real flexibility in his offensive game that has allowed Cutters manager Mickey Morandini to use him in a variety of spots in the batting order. He's hit leadoff when Kyrell Hudson was dropped in the order to work on his swing. He's hit fifth and sixth early in the year behind a powerful middle of the order. And now, with the addition of Peter Lavin in the leadoff spot and Maikel Franco's promotion to Lakewood, Altherr is hitting cleanup.
"I think I'm starting to figure it out. I'm starting to learn my swing," Altherr said of his power surge. "I think I've always had it, I just have to figure out what kind of swing I have to be able to drive the ball farther. I'm just starting to grow into my swing and into my body, really."
It's safe to say that Altherr has salvaged his season with the success he's had since joining Williamsport. It's hard to say where he'll end up in Baseball America's prospect rankings during the offseason, but it's safe to assume he'll still be a name to remember in the next couple years.
"Any failure makes you stronger in the end," Altherr said. "I'm glad it happened and now I can learn from it and later on I can grow from it."
MONIKER MADNESS: Williamsport catcher Bob Stumpo is a part of milb.com's Moniker Madness, a 64-person tournament to try and find the best name in Minor League Baseball. Stumpo is one of three Phillies' prospects in the tournament joining Reading catcher Tuffy Gosewisch and Lehigh Valley's Tagg Bozied.
Stumpo is a fifth seed in the tournament going up against the Auburn Doubleday's Angelberth Montilla. Voting ended Sunday for the first-round matchups.
"I don't think my last name is that weird. It's a great name," the Crosscutters' catcher said Sunday. "It'd be an experience to win something like that, but I'm not politicking at all. I'm up against a pretty good name."
PLAYER MOVEMENT: The Crosscutters lost another pitcher to promotion to Lakewood when Hector Neris was called up late last week. Neris was one of the Cutters' most consistent arms in the bullpen after being assigned to Williamsport following an injury in Lakewood earlier this year.
Neris was 1-1 with a 1.13 ERA in 15 appearances for the Cutters. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out 29 in 24 innings of work and surrendered just three runs.
In his place, Williamsport recalled left-handed pitcher Jim Birmingham from the Gulf Coast League Phillies on Sunday. Birmingham is a Coastal Carolina University product who was drafted in the 25th round by the Washington Nationals after high school. Following his junior year at Coastal Carolina, he was a 33rd-round selection by the San Francisco Giants, but went undrafted this year following a senior season in which he was 3-2 with a 3.62 ERA for the Chanticleers.
Birmingham was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Phillies after attending an open tryout in Lakewood in June. He's a 6-foot-5, 180-pound left-hander out of Pine Hill, N.J.