4 guys. 2 spots. The Phillies middle infield battle will come down to these 4 talented players:
Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez. JP Crawford. Scott Kingery.
The Phillies have a problem. It’s a good problem to have, though. They have too much depth in the middle infield right now, and something needs to be done about it.
Most teams would kill to have the “problem” that the Phils have at the moment. They have 4 players who could make a legitimate case for being part of the Phillies starting middle infield come Opening Day 2018. Two of them are veterans, one of them had a cup of coffee in the bigs at the end of this past season, and one of them has torn up every level of the minors but still has yet to make it to the show.
Galvis, Hernandez, Crawford, and Kingery. 2 of these 4 players will man second base and shortstop for the Phillies this upcoming season. The question is, though, which 2 of the 4 will it be? Each player can make a case for taking one of the 2 spots.
Let’s start with the oldest and most proven of the group, Freddy Galvis.
Freddy has done more than enough to prove that he should be a starting shortstop in this league for a number of years to come. He should have won a gold glove this year. No doubt. He was better statistically and he did it in more games than Brandon Crawford of the Giants. That is a conversation for another day, though. Freddy has seen his offensive numbers go up and down over the last few years, but his glove has kept him in the conversation to be in the Phillies long term plans. In the past few years, Galvis has been relied upon to do a little more on the offensive side of the ball than he should have to do, but now that the Phils have so many young and talented hitters around him such as Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera and more, now is the time to truly look at Galvis’ glove as his true value to a team such as this one. He doesn’t have to hit .290 and hit atop this lineup. If he plays gold glove shortstop like he has been, and has a serviceable offensive stat line while batting at the bottom of this order, there isn’t any reason why Freddy should lose his job.
With all of that said, JP Crawford might end up being the reason Freddy could subsequently lose his job. Crawford has been a top prospect in the Phillies organization for what seems like years now, and it is obvious that he has more long term, all-around potential than Galvis. His bat hasn’t come through in the last year or two at any level, but when the Phils took him with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft, they expected him to be the whole package. The bat will come along, but his glove seemingly is major league ready. In his small 23-game stint with the Phils this past season, he made it look easy with the leather all around the infield. Seeing most of his time at third base, but also seeing some time at shortstop and second base, JP proved that he can dig it with the best of them in the bigs. If his offensive game can come around, we could have something special here.
JP would likely be guaranteed a spot in next year’s starting lineup if it weren’t for the aforementioned Galvis, and also a guy who has quietly become one of the better leadoff hitters in baseball, Cesar Hernandez. Cesar was 2nd on the Phillies in hits with 150, behind only Galvis’ 155. Cesar did it in 511 at-bats, though, compared to Freddy’s 608. It’s clear that if Cesar was healthy all year, he could have been much closer to 200 hits. Becoming a mainstay atop the Phils lineup over the last 2 seasons, Cesar has hit .294 in each of those last 2 seasons, and his power improved this past year, going from 6 home runs in 547 AB’s in 2016 to 9 bombs in 511 AB’s in 2017. What gets lost in Cesar’s game is his defense, likely because he is on the other side of the second base bag from (arguably) the best defensive shortstop in the game. Cesar’s steady numbers at the plate also are just as consistent in the field, as he posted a .981 fielding pct at second base in both 2016 and 2017. Cesar knows that he has much more hyped youngsters behind him, and he is making it awfully hard for the Phillies to leave him out of their long-term plans.
With the 27-year-old Hernandez and 28-year-old Galvis in the middle infield at the moment, it would be easy enough to trade one of these well-established players for maybe some pitching help to pave the way for JP Crawford, but then the Phils STILL have a dilemma with another player who has yet to grace the big leagues with his presence, Scott Kingery. Kingery has come out of nowhere to be one of the top young prospects in baseball. Selected in round 2 of the 2015 MLB draft, Kingery came out as a speedster infielder with not too much pop. Boy, did that change in 2017. After 3 home runs in 252 at-bats with the Lakewood Blue Claws in 2015, 5 home runs in 531 at-bats in 2016 between the Clearwater Threshers and Reading Fightin’ Phils, Kingery jumped to an astounding 26 home runs in 543 at-bats with Reading and the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs in 2017. Kingery has found a whole new part of his game. His speed has always been there, stealing 11 bases in 66 games in 2015, 30 in 131 games in 2016, and 29 in 132 games in 2017. Now, with his power-speed combination, combined with his .989 fielding pct at second base last season, Kingery has shown that he can do it all at every level. Can he transition this all-around game to the majors? A lot of people seem to think so.
Man, all this has us and the Phillies organization in a huge dilemma. What do they do with 4 players fit for only 2 positions? Well, we asked you, the fans, to answer this. We gave you 4 of the 5 possible combinations for these players on Twitter, and here are the results:
Here’s what you guys want the middle infield to look like on Opening Day. It was pretty close, but the combination of Galvis at SS and Kingery at 2B beat out the double play tandem of Galvis at SS and Crawford at 2B. Rather surprisingly, the better portion of voters have written off Cesar Hernandez. We also got a few write-in votes of Kingery and Crawford, but that is most likely not going to happen, at least for the time being.
Now, for this Galvis-Kingery combo to happen, it would likely mean the departure of Cesar Hernandez. A possible deal for the Phils second baseman has been talked about since the end of the 2016 season, knowing that Crawford was almost ready to go. It became even more of a conversation when Kingery got hot this past year. Cesar would definitely bring back a decent trade package, but then we would still be left with Crawford. Does he become a utility infielder? Does he head back to AAA to play every day and maybe get his bat straightened out a little more before being handed the reigns?
Sure, a lot of us would like to see a different solution. Replace Maikel Franco at third base with Crawford. That would make the middle infield dilemma a bit easier, leaving just Galvis, Hernandez and Kingery to battle for those 2 spots. It seems like the Phils are going to give Franco one more shot right now, so we are going to write that one off.
There is no doubt that there are many different directions that the Phils could go in with this. One thing holds true, though. This is a good problem to have if we were to have any. It will be very interesting and fun to watch this thing play out in Spring Training.
Photo: ~e via Flickr