Opening Day lies just over a week from now, yet a plethora of questions concerns the Philadelphia Phillies.
Sure, Roy Halladay's effectiveness and velocity control has been questioned. Joe Blanton's name coming up every so often in trade rumors has been somewhat constant as well. There's even the fact that Cole Hamels extension talks are heating up, and whether the two sides will see eye to eye on years of a deal.
But enough with the pitching. At this point in time, the team's obvious primary concern is their infielding depth.
First baseman Ryan Howard could miss a third or even half of the 2012 season thanks to a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in the final at-bat of the NLDS last year against the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Chase Utley's knee issues have been acting up again, and now in his left knee in addition to his right. Placido Polanco has had a jammed finger. Utility infielder Michael Martinez has a foot fracture. And while Wilson Valdez would have been an option, he's now a Cincinnati Red, a move which GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. made and recently referred to as "foolish."
With all this commotion in the Phillies' injury department, many key changes will be made.
Time at first base will be split by Laynce Nix, John Mayberry, Jr., Ty Wigginton and even Jim Thome until Howard returns. Wigginton, Pete Orr and potentially even Hector Luna will also play elsewhere around the diamond, and Wigginton, Mayberry and Nix will man left field as well.
But who's taking charge at second base? The 22-year-old Venezuelan shortstop, Freddy Galvis, has been playing second base this spring in order to be effective for the big league squad on Opening Day.
Yes, you read that right: a minor leaguer who is both switching from his natural position on the diamond and has never hit in a season above .280 is the team's interim replacement for former All-Star Chase Utley.
Galvis, whose defense has been raved as Gold-Glove caliber, has had questions offensively. Granted, his spring this year has been impressive, but for the most part his success has been either against major league pitchers who have been tinkering with their stuff, or off minor league pitchers just being given a shot against major leaguers and will inevitably be sent back down to the minors.
In 23 games this spring—a substantial amount to say the least—Galvis has hit .273 with two long balls, 12 RBI and a .761 OPS. He's also got three doubles, two triples and a stolen base.
The .273 average is identical to the stat he put up in 104 games at Double-A Reading last year before being promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he batted .298 in the final 33 games of the minor league season. However, he failed to hit a single home run at Triple-A, whereas he had hit eight out of the park in Reading. His OPS dipped to below .700 upon being promoted as well.
So what can we expect out of Freddy Galvis? Put it this way: His eight home runs last season—again, all were at Double-A—were a season high for Galvis. And while his average increased as the competition did, his OPS did not in a smaller amount of time.
I'm not saying that there's necessarily reason to be concerned with the OPS, since his OBP remained similar to his Double-A counterpart. But at Lehigh Valley, it went down by 36 points. That's nothing to laugh off.
With Chase Utley's timetable for return uncertain at this point, I'm going to predict that he'll return sometime in mid-May. He said that his knees felt better than they did last year, and he returned at about the same time. So while he could return earlier, rest never hurt anybody. And the Phillies, if they handle Utley wisely, will take their time in bringing him back.
This means that Galvis could start the first 40 or so games of the season at second base. Defensively, he's a wiz—at shortstop. But will he succeed at second base as well as he has at short?
There's also a recent injury concern with Galvis, for he fouled a ball off his foot in a game on Tuesday. While he's not in need of X-rays and is considered day-to-day with a contusion, any injury to a Phillies infielder right now is a serious one, even if the afflicted player sits for just a week.
Since he hasn't faced major league pitching at its best, Galvis is likely to hit somewhere around .240, maybe .250 if all goes his way to start the season. A fairly patient hitter, Galvis should also be able to garner some walks if he can read the major league pitching correctly. Home runs won't be a common occurrence, if one at all, and an extra-base hit might be nice every now and then, but not on a regular basis.
With the Phillies hurting at their most vital spots right now, Galvis will have to step up his play in order to keep a roster spot and to help the team win.
Even when Howard and Utley return from their injuries, there are no guarantees. Galvis has to play his heart out, both at the plate and on the field, in order to keep this Phillies team running. And though most of the offensive pressure is on Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, Galvis can't be an offensive hole in the lineup. He has to be able to hold down the fort and at least keep things moving.
Anything from Galvis at the plate is a plus, but the team's offensive punch can't lie with just two players. Galvis must hit the ball on a consistent basis, and he must play sufficient defense at his new position.
But will he be able to? I don't think we can be sure. And that's a problem.