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Middle infield stable until Crawford arrives

041312-freddy-galvis-400Something amazing happened this week.

That amazing happened in game three of the 2015 Eastern League Division Series between the Reading Fightin’ Phils and Binghamton Mets. That amazing was this play. Just watch it. Over and over again. That’s J.P. Crawford, your top prospect and potential future in Philadelphia.

But before “Jesus, Please!” Crawford comes leaping into our living rooms every summer weeknight, there’s the business of assessing the play of current major league infielders in Philadelphia.

Sorry for the letdown.

Here are the men who have patrolled second base and/or shortstop this season for the Phillies:

Freddy Galvis – 131 games SS
Cesar Hernandez – 75 games 2B, 9 games SS
Chase Utley – 62 games 2B
Andres Blanco – 4 games 2B, 5 games SS
Darnell Sweeney – 4 games 2B

Incredibly, that’s all. Galvis has played nearly every game at shortstop, while second base went from Utley to Hernandez to Utley and back to Hernandez. Blanco and Sweeney took a few snaps. Cut and dry.

Now let’s take out Utley, as we’re assessing for the future. We’re looking at average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, extra-base hits, walks, strikeouts, and defensive runs over or below average (RTOT).

Galvis – 529 PA; .268 AVG, .306 OBP, .360 SLG; 26 XBH, 25 BB, 95 K; -15 RTOT
Hernandez – 452 PA; .272 AVG, .339 OBP, .348 SLG; 25 XBH, 40 BB, 86 K; -7 RTOT
Blanco – 205 PA; .301 AVG, .369 OBP, .514 SLG; 26 XBH, 16 BB, 35 K; -13 RTOT
Sweeney – 59 PA; .200 AVG, .322 OBP, .460 SLG; 6 XBH, 9 BB, 18 K; -4 RTOT

Looking ahead, the possibility of Crawford starting 2016 with the Phillies remains lower than 50 percent. It’s more likely the Phils let him season a little more in Lehigh Valley before starting his clock mid-season, just as they’ve done with countless prospects.

Otherwise, nothing to see here. Chase d’Arnaud, a second baseman and 29-year-old veteran in 2016, lingers on the 40-man roster and is currently on the big club, but is nothing more than AAA filler if the Phils opt to offer him a contract for next year.

And Edgar Duran, a shortstop who will be 25 in 2016, has stalled in Lehigh Valley. In 2015 Duran hit just .163 with a .242 OBP during an injury-plagued year. He could head back to Reading in 2016 as Crawford goes to the Iron Pigs.

So what for 2016? Do the Phillies stick with a combination of Hernandez and Galvis up the middle, with Blanco on the bench and Sweeney taking on a super-utility role?

Let’s start at shortstop. Galvis, who turns 26 in November, will likely have accrued more than 1,100 plate appearances in his career after this season. In that time he hasn’t hit well (.243/.288/.361) and has shown significantly worse defensive skill than we were promised at his debut. 2015 was easily his worst defensive year, valued at about 15 runs below average. That’s part of a regression at shortstop that has only come with more time at the position.

In short, for short, Galvis has come up woefully short. But there’s no reason to ditch Galvis and pick up a free-agent shortstop. Bigger veteran acquisitions (Ian Desmond) are out of the question as Crawford emerges, and fliers on veteran utility infielders are useless when you already have affordable options in Galvis, Hernandez, Blanco and Sweeney. Long story short, stick with Galvis. There’s a small possibility Galvis has trade value in May or June; if so, that’s the time to unload him. Then it’s Crawford’s job for a while.

Hernandez, meanwhile, won’t be playing baseball again until spring training. It’s more than likely that he returns as the probable starting second baseman for the Phillies. In 708 plate appearances the 25-year-old has hit .269/.331/.333, but this year he hit pretty well, all told. He’s a better hitter than Galvis. Defensively? He’s possibly worse. Not since those 22 games patrolling center field for the 2013 Phillies has Hernandez posted positive ratings on defense. He basically can play one position (second base), and it’s not certain that he’s good enough offensively – jury still out – or defensively – hasn’t improved at all – alone to stick as an everyday player.

This is where it gets intriguing. A number of low- to mid-cost second basemen are set to be free agents in 2016, including Kelly Johnson, Howie Kendrick, Daniel Murphy, Chase Utley and Ben Zobrist. All of these players are better offensively than Hernandez, but all – aside from maybe Johnson and Utley – would command substantial salary in a two-year-minimum deal. And all are in their 30s.

It may not be wisest to splurge just yet on a veteran second baseman, unless Utley can be brought back on a peachy one-year contract. Otherwise the Phillies are probably better off staying with Hernandez for another season.

As for Blanco and Sweeney, both are under team control in 2016, with Blanco eligible for arbitration and Sweeney returning with a slight raise. Blanco has been remarkable in his stint with the Phillies, and it’s possible they could flip him for a low-level prospect sometime before next August. Sweeney, meanwhile, should stay in the majors and share second base duties with Hernandez while getting spot starts in the outfield.

So, to recap, stick with Hernandez, Galvis, Blanco and Sweeney in 2016. Be flexible to move Galvis and Blanco sooner than later. Give Crawford a starting job by mid-season. And hope that Hernandez develops enough of a bat to stick tenuously at second base beyond 2016, but don’t count on it.

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