Galvis has an impressive booster
Freddy Galvis grew up idolizing Omar Vizquel, a longtime decorated shortstop who likes what he sees in the Phillie.
CLEARWATER, Fla. - Cody Asche wanted to be like Ken Griffey Jr., mainly because that's the major league player his older brother idolized.
Young Venezuelan infielder Cesar Hernandez looked up to Venezuelan major league infielder Asdrubal Cabrera. Ryan Howard's baseball heroes included Griffey, Barry Bonds and Tony Gwynn.
Nearly every baseball-crazed kid has a player who inspires his own big-league dreams. Someone they can follow throughout the course of the summer, hoping they get to October. Someone they can mimic with Wiffle Ball swings in their backyards.
Freddy Galvis' baseball hero is probably the least surprising of anyone inside the Phillies' clubhouse.
"Omar Vizquel," Galvis said without hesitation. "Every time he would turn a doubleplay and jump over the base, jump over the guy - that was pretty cool. I have a poster in my room of one of those plays."
Galvis' idolization of Vizquel makes a lot of sense, given the first-year Phillies starter's skill set.
Galvis is a sure-handed shortstop who can routinely gobble up ground balls on the left side of the diamond. Other than Ozzie Smith - and some might disagree with that, even - Vizquel is arguably the best-fielding shortstop baseball has seen over the last half century.
Galvis, who would regularly watch Vizquel highlights on YouTube, obviously would love nothing more than for someone to compare his own glove work to that of Vizquel, a fellow Venezuelan native who won 11 Gold Gloves in his career that spanned four decades (1989-2012). So he'd probably blush a bit if he read the following paragraph.
"He makes unbelievable plays out there," said Vizquel, currently the Detroit Tigers' first-base coach. "His defense is awesome."
But in order for Galvis to get close to replicating the career of his boyhood idol, he'll need to prove that he can hit enough to stick as a regular in a big-league lineup.
In his first 3 years in the big leagues, Galvis has played a total of 171 games, compiling 550 plate appearances - nearly the equivalent of a full major league season. Galvis has hit .218 with a .259 OBP and .621 OPS in that time.
Galvis' minor league numbers aren't a whole lot different: .246, .291 OBP, .625 OPS in 633 games in parts of seven seasons.
But this is where his reverence of Vizquel becomes more interesting.
Vizquel was a .241 hitter in seven minor league seasons from 1984-90. In his first three big-league seasons in Seattle, from 1989-91, in a span of 1,198 plate appearances over 366 games, Vizquel hit .230 with a .290 OBP and a .572 OPS.
Vizquel was 25 in his fourth big-league season, the same age as Galvis today. Vizquel hit .294 with a .340 OBP in 1992 and ended a 24-year career with 2,877 hits, a .272 average and .688 OPS, more-than-respectable numbers for an elite defender at a premium position.
"It looks like he could become a better hitter than me," Vizquel said after pregame batting practice of a Phillies-Tigers game recently. "I think he has more power from both sides of the plate. He's pretty fast. He has all the tools to be a great everyday player."
Before Vizquel's sixth major league season, the Mariners traded him to Cleveland to make room for some shortstop named Alex Rodriguez. It worked out well for Vizquel: He got to team up with future Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar to form what very well might be the best defensive middle-infield combination ever, and he got to work with a major league hitting coach named Charlie Manuel.
The same Charlie Manuel who has been working in the batting cages at Bright House Field with Galvis.
"Charlie always tells me how he worked with [Vizquel]," Galvis said. "He said he couldn't hit at all [early in his career]. Then they started working, and he kept working hard at it. And then he became a .280, .290 hitter. And he played 20-something years in the big leagues. So, yeah, for sure. I can just look at him and see what he was able to do. I know I can do it, too."
"He worked at it," Manuel said of Vizquel. "I think Freddy can do it. He's got the baseball instincts."
Galvis has had a few things working against him in his maturation as a young hitter. He's been unable to stay on the field since first breaking into the big leagues, from suffering a severe back injury in 2012 (the same summer he was suspended 50 games for use of a banned substance) to beginning last season on the disabled list following a MRSA infection before suffering a broken collarbone, too. He also hasn't had a full-fledged opportunity for regular at-bats, since he had served as an understudy or injury replacement for eventual Phillies Wall of Famers Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, before the latter was traded to the Dodgers in December.
But perhaps his biggest downfall has been his uppercut. Last season, 50.6 percent of Galvis' batted balls were flies, according to fangraphs.com data; no other Phillie with at least 100 plate appearances was higher than 45 percent. Galvis' 0.82 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio was 15th among the 15 Phillies with at least 100 plate appearances; Ben Revere, who ranked first, had a 4.51 GB/FB ratio.
In an organizationwide attempt to improve the team's hitting, instructors have worked all spring with hitters like Galvis in an attempt to alter their swings, trying to swing down on the ball with more regularity.
"I'm feeling much better now," Galvis said of his progress. "I'm feeling pretty good. It's going to take a little time because it's something I've never done, but so far it's going good."
Galvis is hitting .300 (9-for-30) in nine games this spring.
For every top prospect who is an immediate All-Star at the plate upon arriving to the big leagues, there are dozens of players who are still developing their games in their first few years. The Phillies have more than a few of those players projected for their Opening Day roster, from Asche and Darin Ruf, to Domonic Brown and Galvis.
Some develop into productive big-league hitters; others become bench players or destined for a permanent trip back to the minor leagues. The player Galvis wanted to be when he was a kid falls into the former category.
Omar Vizquel made his major league debut 3 weeks before his 22nd birthday. Galvis played his rookie season at age 22 in 2012.
"I started switch-hitting when I was 20 years old," Vizquel said. "So I was constantly fighting, getting to know myself as a hitter and learning from other guys. It wasn't easy for me. But he has an advantage. He's been switch-hitting for a while. He can handle that better than the way I did.
"I know he has the hands. As long as you have the hands, they're going to let you play, they're going to give you chances. They already know him. So I think it's going to be great. People are going to be surprised with how good this guy can be."
Maybe some kid in South Philly will end up putting a poster of Galvis up on his wall.