Inside the Phillies: For Phillies, it's Freddy Galvis' time to step up

Posted: March 19, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Reaction from most corners of the baseball universe was all gloom and doom.

"[The] Phils are no longer the N.L. East favorite," a National League scout said soon after hearing the news Monday morning that Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is now listed as doubtful for the start of the 2012 season.

Go read the comments on philly.com and you'll get the sense that this Phillies season is over even though it has yet to begin.

There is, of course, another angle from which to view this developing story.

One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity.

In this case, Utley's chronic knee problems are probably going to give the kid who started playing baseball at the age of 4 in the streets of Punto Fijo, Venezuela, a chance to achieve his big-league dream.

That was the clear message sent by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. as he sat in the home dugout at Bright House Field before the Phillies' Grapefruit League game against the Detroit Tigers. Amaro was given several chances to say he'd rather have somebody other than 22-year-old Freddy Galvis playing second base on opening day in Pittsburgh.

Maybe a trade?

"I think we have people in house [to play second]," Amaro said. "Freddy has done a nice job for us. Until someone unseats Freddy, he'll be one of the candidates. Freddy's done fine."

What about Placido Polanco at second base?

"We could [move Polanco over], but I like Galvis," Amaro said. "Has Galvis done anything to not warrant playing? He's been our best player this spring."

Amaro said all that before Galvis lined a two-run triple off Detroit's Max Scherzer in the bottom of the fifth inning and later showed his outstanding baseball instincts by tagging and scoring from third on a one-out line drive to left field by Jimmy Rollins.

He represented the winning run in the Phillies' 4-3 victory.

Galvis said his baseball instincts were born and bred during those Venezuela street games in which rocks were used for bases.

"I played with the older guys," he said. "I was the young guy, so I had to play good if I wanted to play in the streets. I was always practicing by my house. I think I got [my instincts] from playing so much in the street."

A year ago at this time, the biggest question about Galvis was whether he would ever hit enough to be an everyday shortstop in the big leagues. Thanks to an intense weight-training program after the 2010 season, Galvis eased some of those concerns by hitting .273 at double-A Reading and .298 in 33 games at triple-A Lehigh Valley.

In a perfect world, he'd continue to hone his hitting skills as a shortstop at Lehigh Valley. Nothing, of course, is perfect about the Phillies' world right now. That's why they are trying to turn a lifelong shortstop into a second baseman during these Grapefruit League games. Galvis has given them every reason to believe they can.

"Just give him a glove," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "Give Freddy a glove and I think he can play anywhere. He knows how to play anywhere. Good hands, good instincts."

One team source said the Phillies will be better defensively with Galvis rather than Utley at second base.

"He has more range and a better arm," the source said.

That same source, like everyone in the Phillies organization, also acknowledged that the loss of Utley is a difficult blow for an offense that already is expected to be missing first baseman Ryan Howard for the first two months.

"We still have a good team and I'm not discounting our chances," Rollins said. "It's going to be different. We didn't have a great team in '07 or in '08 and we found ways to win. Now, we're kind of back there.

"Then, it was the staff that was always hurt. Now, it's the guys who swing the bat. We're going to have to find a way to execute and those things are even more important . . . because we've lost a lot of pop."

Galvis cannot replace Utley's power, but the Phillies roster in recent years has been filled with players who made the most of chances like the one the 22-year-old kid from Punto Fijo is about to get. Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth got a chance in right field because the Phillies traded Bobby Abreu.

Victorino became a Gold Glove centerfielder when the team did not re-sign Aaron Rowand. Howard got a chance at first base because Jim Thome got hurt. John Mayberry Jr. made the most of an unanticipated opportunity last summer.

Now, Galvis' time has arrived.

"I feel like I can play," he said. "It's my dream to play in the big leagues. That's my dream since I was young. Maybe my dream is going to come true, so I'm really happy about that right now."


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.

 

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