Bob Brookover: Phillies are invested in Galvis' promise
You have to really watch Freddy Galvis to appreciate him.
Look at him once and you might see only an undersize kid with a baby face who barely appears old enough to drive. Look at him a few more times and you're bound to notice an acrobatic play in the field, the kind his Venezuelan idol Omar Vizquel has made countless times over the years.
Keep watching and you'll begin to see the things that made Phillies scouts Sal Agostinelli, Chalao Mendez, and Rafic Saab fall in love with Galvis when he was only 14 years old.
Of course, you're going to get a chance to see a lot of Galvis at the start of this baseball season because the Phillies have entrusted second base to the 22-year-old infielder while Chase Utley tries to rehabilitate his left knee.
"The first time we saw Freddy, he was a little guy who just kind of grew on you," said Agostinelli, the Phillies' long-time international scouting supervisor. "He did everything really, really well. He didn't run great, he wasn't real big, but every time he was at the plate, he was a switch-hitter who squared the ball up."
The fact that Galvis was a switch-hitter, a rarity for a 14-year-old, was attractive, but it was the shortstop's glove that made the Phillies fall in love.
"What was most impressive to us was that he had unbelievable hands," Agostinelli said.
The Phillies' most animated scout proceeded to act out a play he saw Galvis make for Punto Fijo, Venezuela, at a Latin American Little League tournament. Agostinelli, a stocky catcher in his days as a Phillies minor-leaguer and an even stockier scout today, went to his left, fielded a make-believe grounder and mimed a flip behind his back.
"The ball hit the second baseman in the chest," Agostinelli said. "He never thought Freddy would get to it. I never saw a major-leaguer make that play. He does things with the glove that are pretty spectacular."
Soon after that scouting trip to St. Martin, the Phillies hotly pursued Galvis. They housed him in their Venezuelan Academy in Valencia, seven hours from the Galvis home in Punto Fijo. They got to know the family, particularly the father, Freddy, who was the coach of the Punto Fijo Little League team that won a World Series title in Bangor, Maine, in 2006.
When Galvis turned 16, the Phils offered him $95,000 to sign.
"Other teams tried to come in and talk to him," Agostinelli said. "In fact, at the end, Tampa Bay made a fantastic offer. They offered him something like $250,000. The father had such a loyalty to us and he said, 'I gave you guys my word,' and he signed with us."
It wouldn't be fair to expect a 22-year-old rookie with 33 triple-A games under his belt to produce like Utley. Not even Utley produced like Utley when he was a rookie in 2004, and he was 25.
What the Phillies do expect from Galvis is great defense even though you could count on one hand the number of times he had played second base before spring training. It's not unreasonable to believe that Galvis will provide exactly that despite the position change.
A ground ball is a ground ball, and Galvis started scooping them up about the same time he started walking.
"When I was young . . . I just loved to take ground balls," Galvis said. "I tried to do what those guys did on TV - Omar Vizquel and those guys - so every day I took ground balls. That was fun for me."
The hitting will not come as fast for Galvis, but it should in time. Agostinelli pointed to Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera, another Venezuelan switch-hitter, who has matured physically into an unlikely slugger with the Indians.
"I don't want to compare Freddy to Cabrera, but he's a kid who got stronger and got better," Agostinelli said. "Every time Freddy gets stronger, he's going to get better."
Galvis got stronger last year and had the best hitting year in his career.
As for his defense, trace Galvis' minor-league statistics and you'll see that he was a better-fielding shortstop coming through the Phillies' system than Jimmy Rollins, owner of three Gold Glove awards.
"His confidence" is what Rollins noticed most about Galvis during spring training. "He's a joyful player," Rollins said. "There's no such thing as a natural-born player, but if there's anything close, it would be him."
That's something Agostinelli, Mendez, and Saab noticed when they scouted Galvis.
"He is one of the most instinctual players I've ever scouted," Agostinelli said.
Contact Bob Brookover at firstname.lastname@example.org or @brookob on Twitter.