Galvis' path has him ready to fill Utley's shoes

Galvis' path has him ready to fill Utley's shoes

Galvis' path has him ready to fill Utley's shoes
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The ballfield was a city street. The bases were rocks. The fielders were barehanded. The setting was Punto Fijo, Falcon, Venezuela, a bustling metropolis of some 300,000.

The story is how Freddy Galvis began developing his advanced baseball awareness when he was just 4 years old.

"I played with older guys. I was always the younger guy. So if I wanted to play, I had to play good. I was always practicing around the house, but I think I got better because I played so much in the street," the Phillies rookie infielder explained.

All of this would be little more than a standard Spring Training tale of an interesting prospect -- Galvis was named the 2011 Paul Owens Award winner, given annually to the best player in the organization -- except for a pair of related announcements made by Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. on Monday.

The first was that All-Star second baseman Chase Utley has left camp to see an unnamed specialist at an undisclosed location and is no longer expected to be ready to play on Opening Day.

The second is that, until further notice, Galvis will likely take his place.

And never mind that until a couple weeks ago he'd almost never played second base. Or that he's only 22 years old. Or that he's generously listed as being 5-foot-10. Or that he's played only 33 games above Double-A. Or that as recently as a few days ago, Amaro was saying he anticipated Galvis being the starting shortstop at Triple-A Lehigh Valley this season.

That's where his intangibles come in, the parts of his game that can't be measured by stats, radar guns, tape measures and stopwatches.

"The good thing about Freddy is that he's such a heads-up player. He thinks in the game," said Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who managed Galvis after he was promoted to the IronPigs on Aug. 2.

"He has very good instincts, and I think that's what allows him to be ready for all the plays that do happen at second base. And he's a very creative player. Very good at improvising and making a play. Those are good traits to have playing the middle infield. I think he'll have no problem at second base."

Added manager Charlie Manuel: "Freddy's a good player. Freddy has good instincts. He knows how to play. He makes very few mistakes in the game."

Sal Agostinelli, the Phillies international scouting supervisor, put it this way: "He was one of those kids you had to watch play a lot to really realize how good he was."

The Phillies aren't the offensive powerhouse they were just a few years ago. They gathered this spring vowing to be smarter situational hitters. More than ever they are going to have to rely on strong pitching and doing the little things right to win.

Losing a player of Utley's caliber can never be considered good news, especially for a franchise in World-Series-Or-Bust mode, but Galvis has some savvy at the plate. After he joined Lehigh Valley last season he had 10 infield hits, including five bunts. Overall he set career highs in runs (78), doubles (28), triples (5), homers (8) and stolen bases (23).

The Phillies always knew he could field. The question was whether he'd hit enough.

"I heard that," Galvis said. "But I always worked hard. Nobody else can tell you what you can do. You're the only one who decides. I worked hard on my body, too, and now it's paying off. When you work hard, you can do anything you want."

As if on cue, he delivered a key triple in the bottom of the fifth inning and then scored what proved to be the winning run as the Phillies beat the Tigers, 4-3, on Monday.

Galvis had his breakthrough offensive season in 2011 following a winter during which he stayed in Clearwater to build his strength. He added 10 pounds of muscle by lifting weights and, famously, pushing and pulling an automobile around the warning track at Bright House Field.

When Utley broke his hand in 2007, then-general manager Pat Gillick traded for Tadahito Iguchi. Amaro quickly shut down speculation that he needed to make a move this time.

"I like Galvis. Has Galvis done anything to warrant us not playing him? He's been our best player this spring," he said. "Can he hit enough? We'll find out, probably. We're going to give him a chance."

He's hitting .282 in the Grapefruit League. Whether that translates into success when the regular season opens remains to be seen, but the Phillies insist they're prepared to find out.

"I feel like I can play," he said. "If they put me in the big leagues, I'm going to play. If they put me in Triple-A, I'm going to play. If they put me in [the Gulf Coast League], I'm going to play, too. I feel like I'm ready to play baseball. Wherever they put me, I'm going to be ready. It's a dream for me to play in the big leagues. It was my dream since I was young. So now, maybe, my dream is going to come true."

The Phillies are only hoping that Galvis can do enough of the little things he learned while playing in the streets of Venezuela to make a big difference until Utley comes back.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.