Last year, the Padres started the season losing to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers 14-3. That game set the tone for the first month (11-16 record), and for the rest of the season, for players as well as fans. And frankly, the team became almost unwatchable, even for a fan like me who thinks opening day of the baseball season should be declared a national holiday.
But this year, the team has a different vibe. One offseason addition, Freddy Galvis, may be the poster child for renewed energy. After a steady stream of over-the-hill or inadequate shortstops since the Padres jettisoned Khalil Greene in 2008, it’s a joy to watch Galvis, dreadlocks flying, flash the leather at shortstop. Ground-ball pitchers like Clayton Richard and Luis Perdomo undoubtedly welcomed his arrival.
In the baseball classic Bull Durham, Annie Savoy (played by Susan Sarandon) marvels at the Durham Bulls “playing baseball with joy, verve, and poetry.” A player like Galvis, who wants to play every day, brought that kind of joy and verve, and maybe even a little poetry, to the Philadelphia Phillies. He even earned high praise from hard-nosed, passionate former shortstop Larry Bowa (base coach for the Phillies through last season), who always left everything on the field.
In 2015 Galvis returned to his home country of Venezuela on a mission – to improve his defense. For two straight years since then, he’s lost out only to Brandon Crawford of the San Francisco Giants for the National League Gold Glove, despite the fact that Galvis had better defensive metrics in several categories. He also grew into the role of team leader that the Phillies urged him to assume.
“Be a leader, they told him,” according to Matt Gelb of philly.com. “Lead by example. Show the un-established players how to respect this game, just as Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz did for you.”
A glove-first shortstop, Galvis has a career batting line of .245/.287/.372. However last year, the 28-year-old improved those numbers to 255/.309/.382. Matt Stairs, the new hitting coach for the Padres, just happened to hold that position with the Phillies last year.
Just as he has this year in spring training with the Padres, Stairs emphasized patience at the plate. The Phillies added 70 walks, saw more pitches per at-bat, and improved on hitting fastballs early in the count under Stairs’ tutelage.
But the Phillies traded Galvis in the offseason to make way for their top prospect, J.P. Crawford, at shortstop. The Padres gave up a right-hander, Enyel De Los Santos, who had been the eighth-ranked pitcher in the system. But the team gained a player who should be a definite upgrade over the likes of Clint Barmes, Alexei Ramirez, and Erick Aybar.
Yes, Galvis may be a placeholder for Fernando Tatis Jr., but he’s also the best fielding shortstop the Padres have had in a decade. And he brings a bit of joy and verve, and even a little poetry, to a team desperately in need of all three.