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Is Freddy ready? In Utley's absence, Phillies turn to Galvis

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- ThePhillies aren't kidding. With Chase Utley sidelined for an indefinite -- and, likely, prolonged -- period of time with bad knees, Freddy Galvis will be Jimmy Rollins' double-play partner at second base.

If you think this sounds like something completely different, you're not alone. The Phillies didn't even begin invoking their Chase Utley Absence Emergency Preparedness Plan until, roughly, about three weeks ago.

That's when infield coach Sam Perlozzo first approached Galvis and informed the 22-year-old shortstop that he had been drafted to slide across the bag and begin working exclusively at second.

"Before that, I was taking ground balls at shortstop, third base, second base," Galvis said Tuesday.

Signed as a free agent from Venezuela at 16 in 2006, Galvis was the Phillies' minor league position player of the year last season while splitting time between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He's never been much of an offensive threat, but his glove, athleticism and instincts are very good.

The Phillies first saw him when he was 14, and he's rated as their sixth-best prospect this year by Baseball America. Ryne Sandberg, who managed Galvis for 33 games at Lehigh Valley last season, raves about him.

Galvis batted .298 with six doubles, eight RBI and a .315 on-base percentage at Lehigh Valley in 2011, and hit .273 with 35 RBI, a .326 OBP and 19 steals in 103 games at Reading.

"He's a good player," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He knows exactly where to go. He minimizes mistakes. When he makes one, you see him working on it the next day. And he's hitting better. His hitting is 100 percent better than it was at this time last year."

This is Galvis' second big league camp. And knowing full well that the Phillies re-signed Rollins to a three-year deal over the winter, he figured his major-league path was blocked this spring. Figured he would just come in, play hard and see what happens.

Suddenly, he's been presented with the best opportunity of his lifetime. The Phillies have scouts frantically searching for middle infielders who might become available in these final days of spring training, but Galvis is their guy. What they're looking for is a backup infielder for depth.

But so far, with Perlozzo and Rollins tutoring Galvis, the Phillies think he can handle second base. They know he can do it defensively. Question is, will he be able to hit enough?

"It might take some time for him to learn the angles at second base because he's always played shortstop," Manuel said. "But he's taken to it really well.

"He's learning how to turn the double play, where to play left-handed hitters. He's a good player. He plays winning baseball.

"He's clever, not fancy. He doesn't show you a lot of flash. He does it the right way. When he needs to make a great play, he does that."

With Utley out, the Phillies aren't looking for flash. They want somebody to catch the ball behind Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and the rest. And with Ryan Howard out, it becomes even more imperative on that side of the infield. With John Mayberry Jr., Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome playing first, Galvis' well-above-average range is what the Phillies need far more than any flash.

With the questions of Howard and Utley looming in the background, the plays Rollins and Galvis should make in the infield will ward off a lot of extra worry.

Toughest thing so far, Galvis said, is handling the double play from that side of the bag.

"Every time from shortstop, you see the runner coming to you," Galvis said. "From second base, you never see the runner."

That can be exceptionally dangerous. Just last opening day, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Japanese shortstop the Twins moved to second base, suffered a broken leg at when he failed to avoid a sliding Nick Swisher on an attempted double play in Yankee Stadium.

"The first couple of days, I didn't know how it was going to be," Galvis said. But now, he said, he has more confidence, can "feel" the runner coming in from first when he's got his back turned while receiving the ball from the shortstop or third baseman on a double-play attempt and is more comfortable.

Another big change to which he's adapting is the flip on a play at second -- delivering the ball for a force out or even a tag. Moving toward the bag from his usual shortstop position, that is executed while going to his left. From second base, it is executed while he's moving to his right.

Those are the different angles about which Manuel was talking.

"I think Freddy's ready to play in the major leagues," the manager said. "Definitely, the playing part. And, I think, the mental part, too."

Sunblock Day? A gorgeous 81 degrees at game time for the Phillies-Pirates here Tuesday afternoon. I've had more than one person in uniform tell me this is some of the best spring weather that's ever been seen in Florida.

Likes: Bright House Field, the Phillies' home in Clearwater. Great spring training stadium, one of the best. ... Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, cleared to return to the field. ... The final week of spring, and decisions made: Jeff Niemann to Tampa Bay's rotation and Wade Davis to the bullpen. Mike Aviles as Boston's shortstop, Jose Iglesias to the minors. Opening day is near. ... The grilled scallops and shrimp with mango salsa the other night at Bonefish Grill. The seared Ahi tuna taco appetizer was pretty great, too. ... Alabama Shakes' debut disc, Boys & Girls, now available for pre-order and in stores early next month. Saw them at a small club in January, and these guys are goooood.

Dislikes: Every day, more talk about the Trayvon Martin tragedy, and it is all sickening from every angle.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"It's a sweet, sweet life
"Living by the salty sea"

-- Zac Brown Band, Knee Deep
 
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