NEW YORK - As Freddy Galvis stood in front of his locker at Busch Stadium last Friday night and talked about the relay throw that helped save a 5-3 win over the Cardinals, he did so while munching on a slice of pound cake.
In all likelihood, he isn't the first player to celebrate a victory with a baked good. For all we know, he finished the cake, went back to the players' cafeteria, and chased a shot of Jameson with a beer. But what we saw was a 22-year-old who looked like he had just been dropped off at the local arcade after an American Legion game.
Pound cake and defense: That's what Galvis does, and it's the reason why Phillies fans have developed such an affinity for him. In a season that continues to unfold like a cosmic practical joke, the slick-fielding rookie at second base has been one of the few aspects of the team that is truly fun to watch. Which is all well and good, except for one issue: Two months into the regular season, Galvis has yet to erase the doubts about his ability to consistently hit major league pitching. And it is still unclear how he will fit into the Phillies' future.
Make no mistake: Galvis has been a pleasure to watch in the field. And a contending lineup should be able to afford a player or two whose dominant tool is defense. The 2008 and '09 World Series teams had Pedro Feliz. In 2010 and '11, Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez played the role. But those teams had 25-home-run power at second base (Utley) and leftfield (Pat Burrell, Raul Ibanez), with alternating stages of productivity by Rollins and Polanco mixed in. Wednesday night, Ty Wigginton batted cleanup.
The issue might not be so pronounced if players like Jimmy Rollins (.286 OBP before Wednesday) and John Mayberry Jr. (.277 OBP) were to perform at levels close to what the club expected. In the meantime, you can't ignore the fact that Galvis' .231 batting average and .257 on-base percentage ranked 11th and 13th among the 13 second basemen who entered Wednesday's games qualified for the National League batting title. That might not matter to fans who are simply grateful for the opportunity to root for a player on the good side of his peak years. But it does matter to the Phillies, at least when wins and losses are concerned.
Charlie Manuel was asked what kind of numbers a player with Galvis' defensive ability would have to post to earn a spot in a lineup for a contending team.
"I think at second base, he would probably have to hit .270 with how he plays defense," the manager said. "I think eventually that he will get there. He might not get there this year, but I think eventually he will get there."
Manuel acknowledged the bar would be lower at Galvis' natural position of shortstop, but the Phillies just signed Rollins to a contract worth $38 million guaranteed over four seasons. At second base, Utley is still under contract through 2013. Even if he can stay healthy enough to provide some punch, the Phillies still have holes at third base, where they seem likely to decline the option on Placido Polanco's contract, and leftfield, where Mayberry has struggled and prospect Domonic Brown is an unknown commodity. That's not to mention the production they could lose in centerfield, where Shane Victorino is scheduled to become a free agent.
The Phillies could play Galvis at third base, or even stick him at shortstop and move Rollins to third. But they need to find offense somewhere. After Tuesday, Phillies leftfielders had two home runs and 12 extra-base hits, both of which rank in the bottom third of the league. Their third basemen had hit one home run and 11 extra-base hits, both marks the lowest in the NL. Utley, still on the disabled list with a lingering knee ailment, has seen his production drop over the past few seasons. Rollins showed last year that he can still be a middle-of-the-pack shortstop offensively, but it is tough to expect much more.
"We used to get into arguments about our team, and we used to say that on our team, the third baseman didn't have to have a lot of power because our shortstop and second baseman made up for all of that," Manuel said. "But now, if we go back to the old standard of the shortstop and second baseman not having to hit for power and high average, well then we've got to go back to the prototype leftfield, third base, rightfield. Those would be the positions that supply the power."
Thus far, Galvis has shown more power than many probably expected. It is worth noting that Utley began his career hitting .239 with a .311 on-base percentage, and 16 extra-base hits in his first 177 plate appearances. After Tuesday's game, Galvis had 17 extra-base hits in 177 plate appearances. At 22, he has plenty of potential, and plenty still to prove.