Inside the Phillies: Galvis off to a good start for Phillies

Posted: April 29, 2012

Seventeen days into his major-league career, the 22-year-old Venezuelan sits beside millionaires in a clubhouse. It is a few minutes until Freddy Galvis takes batting practice in San Diego with his Phillies teammates, and he is living the dream. Up the hallway, around the corner, and into the dugout, Charlie Manuel is talking.

"Freddy's going to be a really good player," the manager says. "He has a chance to be real good, if he doesn't change anything. Don't change your attitude, your thinking, nothing. Don't listen to [stuff]. If you want to be a rich man, don't get caught up in that."

Galvis is relayed the message and he shakes his head in disbelief. This is fun, isn't it?

"Yeah," Galvis says, "oh yeah." He smiles.

For more than a year, Phillies minor-league officials gushed about Galvis. He played a major-league shortstop, they said. Give him time in triple A and he will develop, they said. But when pressed on whether he could do it now, there was only hope and no assurances.

Three weeks hardly marks a guarantee, but the first taste of Galvis proves competency - and possibly even more.

The Phillies saw Chase Utley for the first time in a month while in Arizona, and Utley believes his knee-strengthening program is headed in the right direction. He could be on a similar path to 2011, when he missed the season's first 46 games.

If he does return in late May, what of Galvis? He could return to the minors and play daily to foster his development.

"Right now," Manuel admitted recently, "I'm not even thinking that way."

They were strong words for an infielder hitting .200 with a .555 OPS through 19 games. But Manuel believes Galvis can forge a major-league career with his current defense and ability to bunt. (The manager says Galvis is the best bunter on the team.)

There could be at-bats for Galvis even upon Utley's return. Utley could be eased into action at second. He could also play some first base. Jimmy Rollins could take a day off every week and Galvis could slide across the diamond to his natural position. And then there is third base, manned by Placido Polanco's fragile body.

Interestingly enough, Manuel has openly spoken about his desire to rest Polanco on a regular basis. And he has followed through with those proclamations. Polanco sat for three games during the recent 10-game road trip. It's rare for Manuel to rest a healthy regular with that frequency.

Galvis played third base once, in 2009 for single-A Clearwater. Does he have the arm for the corner?

"Yeah he does," Manuel said. "But that's getting a whole lot ahead of us."

Despite an ugly first three weeks, Polanco is far from finished. But there are questions about his durability. And since the end of last April, Polanco has 12 extra-base hits in 474 plate appearances. In his first 65 plate appearances, Galvis mashed five extra-base hits.

Again, it's early, but Galvis' defensive contributions are difficult to overstate. Using the website FanGraphs' formula for Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Galvis entered Friday as the most valuable infielder defensively in baseball. But defensive metrics are unreliable, even in much larger sample sizes.

So just watch the game, as Manuel often says.

"He never played second base before and the way he can turn a double play, that's pretty good," Manuel said. "That's really good."

He started talking about a double play against the Padres, but it might as well have been any of the dazzling moves by Galvis.

"That was a hell of a feed," Manuel said. "He was deep for that kind of feed. That surprised me, really."

Galvis said he has enjoyed playing with Rollins. Their discussions at the end of spring training were mostly one-sided, with the veteran telling Galvis where he should stand against certain batters with certain pitchers throwing.

"He told me what he likes to do, where he wants the ball, and that kind of stuff," Galvis said. "Then he asked me where I want the ball at second base. So that's how we tried to do it. Right now it's going good so far."

The thing that sticks out, Manuel says often, is Galvis' instincts. He looks like a big leaguer on the field, without question. But off the field, he has adapted seamlessly. (Of course, he gladly accepted Carlos Ruiz's offer of a few new suits for road trips.) His fluency in English helped his rise through the minors and facilitated a brisk transition from shortstop to second base.

So, for now, the cherub-faced rookie will just enjoy it.

"That's what I try to do," Galvis said. "I have fun. I play hard. We'll see what happens."

And Manuel will be sure to remind Galvis to avoid the distractions that entice younger talents.

"Yeah I tell him that," Manuel said. "That kills a lot of good players."


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @magelb

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