Last month, when I was on ESPN’s Baseball Today podcast with Eric Karabell (@KarabellESPN), I mentioned two things: Chase Utley was the Phillies storyline I would be most interested in going into spring training, and the Phillies will be in trouble if the four members of their infield are unable to stay healthy throughout the season.
With just a couple weeks left in spring training, it looks like that nightmare scenario may be coming to fruition. Per David Hale:
The sum total of Freddy Galvis’ endless work on his offensive game last season was a .716 OPS and eight home runs between Double-A and Triple-A.
For a 22-year-old heralded for his glove, that represented significant progress.
As a potential replacement for All-Star Chase Utley in the lineup of a team with World Series aspirations, it represents a huge question mark.
With a little more than two weeks remaining before opening day, Galvis is now the starter at second base for the Phillies, and when it comes to his bat, even he’s not quite sure what to expect.
The Phillies continue to try to put an optimistic spin on Utley’s situation, but he won’t be ready for opening day, and there’s at least a chance he won’t be ready any time soon after that. Amaro wouldn’t speculate on whether it might be a career-threatening injury.
That means the future is now for Galvis. Whether he’s ready remains to be seen, but the Phillies are prepared to give him a chance.
The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Gelb predicts Utley won’t start on Opening Day, opening a window for Galvis or a trade acquisition. While Galvis plays smooth defense and hasn’t looked inept at the plate, PECOTA is very pessimistic about the 22-year-old’s ability to handle Major League pitching, projecting him at a .206 true average (TAv, the league average is .260). ZiPS isn’t hopeful either, projecting a .290 wOBA compared to the .316 league average last year.
Galvis doesn’t have anything more than slightly above-average speed and he hasn’t displayed premier base running smarts (career 67 percent success rate in the Minors). He lacks on-base skills (career .246 average, .292 OBP, and 5.6 percent walk rate in the Minors) and has very little power (career .075 ISO, set a benchmark at .114 last year). There is just no way around it: downgrading from Utley to Galvis is a huge loss in production and the Phillies will be scrambling to replace it.
Meanwhile, around the infield, the Phillies will be plugging other holes. In Placido Polanco‘s absence, Ty Wigginton will get more playing time. Wigginton’s defense leaves a lot to be desired and his spotty offense barely meets the league average at the hot corner. In the event both Utley and Jimmy Rollins are sidelined simultaneously, Michael Martinez will get some playing time at second base. The Rule 5 acquisition exceeded expectations with a .247 wOBA last year, which tells you all you need to know about the guy.
Finally, the Phillies are dealing with the loss of Ryan Howard with a patchwork first base platoon. Jim Thome, who has played 28 defensive innings since 2006, is expected to get a weekly start to get his legendary bat in the lineup. Otherwise, the Phillies will be using some combination of Wigginton, John Mayberry, and Laynce Nix. Neither of the three have great TAv projections, at .257, .270, and .263, respectively (Thome projects at .293). The more hopeful among us expect Howard back before June, but realistically, Phillies fans should be thrilled if he’s back at any time before the All-Star break.
As far as spring trainings go, 2012 has not been the best. Fortunately, the Phillies are blessed with an easy schedule early in the regular season. The Phillies open against the Pittsburgh Pirates and later have series throughout the month of April with the New York Mets, San Diego Padres, and Chicago Cubs, all teams that finished significantly below .500 last year. May includes more games against the Mets and Padres, as well as the Houston Astros. If ever the Phillies were going to stay afloat amidst crashing waves of adversity, it is in the first two months of the 2012 regular season.