We are only a month into the 2011 season, but we already know what one of the Phillies' more interesting offseason story lines is going to be.
Does Jimmy Rollins have a future in Philadelphia?
Rollins controls his own destiny to some extent. If he plays well and the team wins a fifth straight division title - or something more - the chances he will be back increase, provided his financial demands are not too astronomical.
A mediocre or poor season will make the Phillies think long and hard about what to do at shortstop, and Freddy Galvis has an opportunity to make that decision even more difficult.
Coming into this season, the best shortstop in the organization was considered major-league-ready defensively but a major liability offensively. One big-league scout said he did not think Galvis would ever hit much more than the .233 average he posted last year at double-A Reading.
That average, combined with 89 strikeouts in 502 at-bats, earned the 21-year-old Venezuelan a return trip to Reading this season. Galvis, signed in 2006, has never hit above .240 for a full season in the minors, but he offered some April proof that his bat is finally becoming a weapon in his fifth professional season.
Heading into the weekend, Galvis was hitting .284 with two doubles, two home runs, and eight RBIs.
Chuck LaMar, the assistant general manager in charge of player development and scouting, said Galvis spent a lot of time working on strength training in the winter after a brief winter ball stint in Venezuela.
"He played the first three weeks of winter ball and then we brought him to Clearwater and for a month he did nothing but work on getting stronger and quicker," LaMar said. "He then set up a program in Venezuela so when he left us at Christmas time he continued that program for the next two months, and when he showed up at major-league camp there was a noticeable improvement."
Galvis hit only .182 in 22 exhibition at-bats, but LaMar said that even in the big-league Grapefruit League games he noticed a difference.
"It wasn't just a noticeable difference in body type, but you could also see the improvement," LaMar said. "He was able to handle better velocity at home plate, and his arm strength became a legitimate major-league arm. He can play shortstop. He could probably play shortstop in the major leagues right now, but his arm strength in the hole was always a question mark."
LaMar added that he believes Galvis will likely be promoted from Reading to triple-A Lehigh Valley at some point this season.
Reading manager Mark Parent said he tried to challenge Galvis as a hitter by moving him up in the batting order. Galvis has batted first or second all season.
"I tried to put him in a spot where he felt like his at-bats would be more important," Parent said. "Sometimes guys who have been categorized as glove players, people say if they hit .230 and make all the plays it's OK. But when you put him in the leadoff spot or the two hole, to him it seems like they're more important and he feels like he needs to contribute more on the offensive end."
Parent said he has also noticed marked improvement in Galvis' arm strength, and he agrees with LaMar that he could play a big-league shortstop now.
"He's so comfortable out there," Parent said. "You almost never have to move him during a game because he's into the game and he's a competitor. When I saw him in spring training last year, I wasn't sure if his arm was strong enough to be a shortstop, but when I watch him now, it's strong enough. Whatever he did in the offseason, it paid off."
It's only one month, but if Galvis can continue to play the way he did in April while also earning a promotion to Lehigh Valley, he could influence whatever decision the Phillies eventually make about Rollins' future in Philadelphia.
(Double-A, 13-7, first place Eastern League Eastern Division)
Cody Overbeck has played third base and first base and been a designated hitter this season, but manager Mark Parent said he also planned to get the power-hitting infielder some work in the outfield.
"The last homestand, we hit him some fly balls out there," Parent said. "He thinks he can do it. He'll have to play more long toss because he'll have to lengthen his arm."
Overbeck leads the Eastern League with six home runs and 18 RBIs.
Parent wants to keep Overbeck and Matt Rizzotti in the Reading lineup against National League teams. So far, those two have split time at DH and first base.
Carlos Rivero, claimed off waivers from Cleveland in November, has been the Reading third baseman, and Parent raves about his defense.
"Bad hop or not, backhand or not, it finds his glove," Parent said. "He has a very strong, accurate arm."
Rivero has also made significant strides at the plate, batting .286 with five doubles and seven RBIs through his first 19 games.
Parent also believes catcher Tuffy Gosewisch, popular with the Phillies aces in spring training, could become a good enough hitter to at least be a backup catcher in the big leagues. Gosewisch, 27, has never hit above .252 in the minors, but he was batting .293 with three home runs and nine RBIs through his first 13 games.
Former Villanova pitcher Jordan Ellis was promoted from Clearwater and has pitched two scoreless innings.
The most impressive pitcher at Reading continues to be J.C. Ramirez, one of the two pitchers acquired in the Cliff Lee trade with Seattle. Through four starts, he is 4-0 with a 1.03 ERA.
"He's pretty much taken the number-one spot if there is such a thing here," Parent said. "He acts like he wants that role."
(Triple-A, 10-11, third place International League North Division)
If veteran Juan Perez continues to pitch the way he did in April, he could get a shot at some point this season to work as a lefthanded specialist out of the Phillies bullpen. Through eight games, the 32-year-old had allowed just two hits and struck out 11 in 92/3 innings. Opponents were hitting .069 against him. The one negative: six walks. . . . After a hot start, veteran infielder Ronnie Belliard was 3 for 35 in his last 10 games heading into the weekend. . . . Infielder Josh Barfield, who was impressive early in spring training with the Phillies, was hitting .214 going into the weekend. . . . Scott Mathieson has had a rough opening month, posting a 4.97 ERA while allowing 14 hits and nine walks in 122/3 innings through his first eight appearances.
(Advanced single-A, 13-8, second place Florida State League North Division)
The hottest hitter at Clearwater not named Joe Savery is Domonic Brown, who went 4 for 8 with two home runs in his first two Florida State League rehab appearances. Savery, the converted pitcher and former first-round draft pick, continues to lead the league in hitting. He went into the weekend batting .447 with six doubles, two triples, a home run, and nine RBIs.
"This goes to show how good judging people in spring training is," assistant general manager Chuck LaMar said. "In spring training, he scuffled at home plate. So we're having a meeting at the end of spring training and we're thinking, we don't want to put him in over his head at Reading because it's his first full year to be a hitter. We figured, 'What the heck, let's send him to Clearwater,' and he's had a terrific start."
LaMar indicated Savery could be moved to Reading at some point in the near future.
"It's just fun to see him have some fun," LaMar said. "He wanted to hit and give it a chance, and sometimes when a player wants to do something that bad, you need to listen to him."
Sebastian Valle, considered the best catching prospect in the organization, has recovered from a slow start at the plate by going 10 for 30 with six RBIs in his last eight games, raising his overall average from .185 to .263 heading into the weekend.
(Single-A, 9-11, sixth place, South Atlantic League North Division)
On a pitching staff filled mostly by guys drafted out of college last June, young Jesse Biddle is struggling.
Through four starts, the 19-year-old Philadelphia native from Germantown Friends School and the team's first-round pick from a year ago had a 0-3 record and 7.16 ERA. He allowed 18 hits and walked 12 in 161/3 innings over his first four starts.
Ervis Manzanillo, the other young starter on the Lakewood staff, was also struggling. Manzanillo, also 19, was 0-1 with a 7.30 ERA in his first three starts.
The top two guys in the rotation - David Buchanan and Mario Hollands - were a combined 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA through eight starts. Buchanan was a seventh-round pick last year and Hollands was a 10th-round selection.
- Bob Brookover