Growing up, all young American baseball fans probably have the same dream: it’s the bottom of the 9th in game seven of the World Series. You come up to bat with the bases loaded, and it’s a full count. Your team is down by three runs, but on the last pitch of the season, you hit a grand slam to send the crowd into a frenzy. You’re the hero of a world champion.
For a lot of Venezuelan fans growing up, the dream is a little different. It’s still the bottom of the 9th in game seven of the World Series, but the soon-to-be hero is in the field, not at the plate. With the bases loaded and only one out, the batter hits a ground ball that would score the tying and winning runs. You dive in the hole and start a highlight reel double play to win the World Series. Still the hero, but the winning play is a lot different.
Freddy Galvis would probably say he’d rather be the hero in the second situation if someone asked him. It’s no secret that young fans will idolize players for their favorite team or from their region. Around the Delaware Valley, kids are no doubt wearing #26, batting with an open stance and playing the game hard. In Japan, kids are wearing #51 and doing everything they can to put the ball in play. In Venezuela, kids idolize slick fielding shortstops. They want to grow up to be Omar Vizquel or Luis Aparicio, the only Venezuelan born player currently in the Hall of Fame. Galvis is no exception.
Galvis’ ability to field was never in doubt. In an era where defense has been re-emphasized yet good defensive shortstops are hard to come by, he could be the best in minor league baseball. His competition includes fellow Venezuelan Ehire Adrianza of the Giants and high priced Cuban imports Jose Iglesias and Adeiny Hechavarria of the Red Sox and Blue Jays respectively. They’re all similar in that they’re potential gold glove winners but may all face difficulties getting in a major league lineup regularly due to their bats. As an overall prospect, Galvis is probably second or third among those players.
His ability to hit will determine if Galvis is one of many Latin infielders who can field but end up topping out in the minors, if he’s a major league utility player who can fill in at any infield position or his ultimate ceiling, a major league regular. For much of his career, it appeared he might never make the majors. Even though someone who can play gold glove defense at a premium position doesn’t have to be a middle of the lineup hitter to have major league value, they still have to perform at a certain level to not be a complete black hole in the lineup. Fortunately for the Phillies, Galvis’ breakout season came in Jimmy Rollins’ contract year, showing them that there may be a homegrown option available very soon.
Last offseason was a critical time for the Phillies and Galvis. Besides Rollins’ contract situation, Galvis had to be placed on the 40 man roster to protect him from the rule 5 draft. He probably wouldn’t have been selected, but if Michael Martinez could be taken and held on a roster an entire season, anyone can. That means the Phillies needed to use an option to send him down to the minors this year, so if he’s going to have a career with the Phillies, now is the time to prove himself. He responded with an intense strength training program that proved to be beneficial at the plate and in the field. He was able to hit the ball with more authority, and his arm strength improved.
Galvis has had a month or so of hitting adequately in his career, so when he had a solid April with a .700 OPS, it was important to exercise caution. He spent the rest of the season proving it’s not a fluke, and the improvements at the plate are real. In 104 games with Reading batting leadoff or second, he posted a .273 average, .326 OBP and .400 slugging. Not world beater numbers for sure, but a big improvement and solid for a shortstop that fields as well as he does. He hit eight home runs, nearly double his career total. He earned a promotion to Lehigh Valley where his average climbed to nearly .300, but OBP and SLG both dropped.
The Phillies had recognized Galvis’ ability since he was 14 years old and then signed him as a 16 year old two years later in 2006. He received only $90,000, a small signing that probably flew under most radars. Despite his small stature and lack of hitting ability, the Phillies were confident enough in Galvis to have him skip the Gulf Coast League and go right to Williamsport. This was a theme of the Phillies’ handling of Galvis: aggressive promotions to levels he wasn’t ready to hit. His defense certainly merited a higher level every time he was bumped up, but he was always young for his level and overmatched at the plate.
It wasn’t until Galvis reached Reading that the Phillies would finally slow him down and have him repeat a level which he did twice. In his pro debut at Williamsport in 2007, Galvis barely hit .200 and his OBP and SLG each hovered around .250. That’s absolutely putrid and if batting statistics leaderboards went down further than 100 players, he would surely be found right at the bottom. He still found himself in Lakewood the next year where his OPS improved to .588 which still isn’t even close to major league quality. Prior to 2011, that was probably his best season at the plate, although his batting averaged improved from .238 to .240 when he made the transition from Lakewood to Clearwater.
Galvis reached Reading at the end of the 2009 season, stayed there for 2010 and started 2011 still in AA. The average AA player is usually between 24-25, although just about every player considered a prospect will be a couple years younger than that. At Reading, Galvis was finally able to catch up a bit. Instead of being very young compared to the competition with a bat lagging way behind, he gained experience through a lot of at bats at one level and showed improvement.
There’s no doubt Galvis can field in the majors right now. The level his bat reaches will determine how important he is to the Phillies in upcoming years. It’s likely that he’s not going to hit for much power, and it’s likely that he’s going to make a lot of outs. He’ll never be more than an eight hole hitter if he becomes a regular, and he might not fit in every lineup. Can the Phillies afford to add another out maker with little power to the lineup right now? It’s a lineup already lacking power. Galvis is an average runner who can bunt, move runners and hit the other way which are nice skills to have for players who don’t hit well but don’t make him a starting player.
It’s difficult to evaluate how good Freddy Galvis will be in the majors. Projections vary from analyst to analyst; some say he’s simply a stopgap until they find a better option, some say he’s major league ready now and can stick as a starter. His glove is special, but if he becomes a black hole in the lineup, he can’t start. There’s no doubt that a player that hit the way Galvis did from 2007-2010 doesn’t belong in the majors, but his improvements in 2011 are real. Does he have any development left in him? The question is how good does his bat have to be to be good enough to play every day? If he could replicate his 2011 AA numbers where he hit .273 with a .326 OBP and .400 SLG in the majors, which is not likely, it’s awfully similar to the 2011 season by the team’s departing shortstop: .268/.338/.399. That kind of hitter fits a lot better batting 8th than 1st.