CLEARWATER, Fla. – Cesar Hernandez concedes that things are a little bit different at this Phillies spring training. For him, it has nothing to do with Jason Kelce’s Monday morning speech or Gabe Kapler’s influence over workouts as the new manager. For the switch-hitting second baseman, the strange vibe comes from the absence of close friend Freddy Galvis, the elite defensive shortstop who was his double-play partner the last three seasons.
“Yeah, it is a little weird,” Hernandez said Monday. “But you still have to get ready for games and get ready for spring training. Life goes on, and that’s how this business is, so you worry about what you can control.”
Perhaps that was the final lesson Hernandez learned from Galvis, who was traded to the San Diego Padres in December for minor-league pitcher Enyel De Los Santos. Hernandez and Galvis have been friends since their teenage years in Venezuela, and they joined the Phillies organization together as 16-year-old international free agents in 2007.
Galvis, at age 27, arrived at spring training a year ago as a confident and established player. He hit 20 home runs in 2016, and you could have chopped off your left hand and two fingers on your right one and still counted the number of shortstops who were better than he was defensively. In a clubhouse occupied by a large number of players from Latin America, Galvis also grew comfortable in the role of leader.
None of that prevented the Phillies from trading the shortstop, because they wanted to make room for J.P. Crawford, the organization’s top-ranked prospect by Baseball America, who graduated to the big leagues in September.
Hernandez, 27, finds himself in an almost identical position to Galvis. It could be argued that he, too, has arrived as a player at around the same time the Phillies could be ready for his departure. Nobody is saying that, of course, for a number of reasons.
“My impressions are this guy is ready to play baseball right now,” Kapler said. “He’s ready to step into the batter’s box and compete. He’s incredibly energetic, smiling fairly consistently. The other thing I noticed is that in his early live batting-practice sessions, he is making a lot of loud contact. He certainly feels a lot of confidence, and that’s evident. He’s in incredible physical condition and a very good baseball player the last couple of years. Notably, a little small step forward for Cesar puts him in the conversation among the better second basemen in baseball.”
Actually, he already belongs there. Hernandez finished in the top 10 in batting average (fifth at .294), on-base percentage (fourth at .373), OPS (seventh at .793) and runs scored (ninth at 85) among big-league second basemen last season. He also improved defensively, and the MLB Network ranked Hernandez as the 10th–best second baseman in its annual Top 10 Right Now segment. It could be argued that No. 10 is too low for Hernandez.
“Yeah, I saw it, but I never pay attention to that stuff,” Hernandez said. “Don’t get me wrong. … It is an honor because it’s something you earn by putting the time in.”
It’s possible that Hernandez will play even better this season and still face the same fate as Galvis. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Galvis is playing for the Padres and will earn $6.8 million this season, and the Phillies got a potential back-end-of-the-rotation starter for him.
For Hernandez, the competition from below is coming from Scott Kingery, the organization’s No. 3-ranked prospect, according to Baseball America. Kingery, 23, added power to his arsenal last year, in his third minor-league season, and is considered a premier defender.
“I see Cesar in a different place in his career than I see Scott right now,” Kapler said. “Scott is starting to establish himself as a guy who is going to make a big impact for us at the major-league level, but not necessarily in any capacity. It could be that he plays some second base. It could be he plays a little short, or maybe he gets a look in center field. Who knows how he gets to the big leagues, but his versatility is so attractive, and his athleticism is so attractive, and his ability to steal a big base. He has so many incredible qualities, we’re really excited however he gets to the big leagues, and Cesar has really established himself as one of the better second basemen.”
Perhaps Kingery becomes a more versatile defensive player, but he is already an elite defensive second baseman who made just six errors in 113 games last season. It seems likely that he will play there most of the time when he gets to the majors. For now, however, the position rightfully belongs to Hernandez, and regardless of where he ends up, he will impact the Phillies’ future with the way he plays this season.