Who's a better hitter: Freddy Galvis or Cody Asche? Which player is more likely to be a part of the next decent Phillies team?
Three months ago, these wouldn't have been tough questions to answer. With a sub-.700 OPS through his first two major league seasons, Asche was no great shakes at the plate, but he'd flashed hints of line-drive power and a solid walk rate, at least by Amaro-era Phillies standards, and at age 24 there was reason to hope for upside. Galvis, meanwhile, was Steve Jeltz without the jheri-curl: a glove-first guy who'd never even hit in the minors and showed little prospect of being able to do so at the game's highest level through parts of three seasons, even before considering a PED suspension and a run of weird injuries. His versatility was nice, but the profile going forward looked more like Wilson Valdez than, say, Josh Harrison.
Fast forward to mid-May, though, and Galvis is the Phillies' best hitter while Asche is back in the minors. Credit a new plate approach, his (temporary) embrace of a heavier bat, or his avidity to seizing the moment (thanks, Bo). Or just chalk it up to small sample size—though, as Freddy approaches 130 plate appearances with a strikeout rate less than half of last year's and a BABIP that's high (.373 through May 13) but not so much that it can't normalize without sinking his average, that's becoming a tougher argument to sustain.
Asche meanwhile was demoted for instructional rather than punitive reasons: he's in Lehigh Valley to learn left field as Maikel Franco, a superior defender, prepares to take over at third base. But it's probably safe to say that if Asche had been putting up Galvis's offensive numbers, the Phillies would have put up with Asche's uninspiring glove work. The team's hope is that Asche can play a good enough left field to focus on raising his offensive game, in the sort-of proud tradition of Greg Luzinski, Darren Daulton, Pat Burrell and others who, as left fielders, sure were good hitters. (Darin Ruf meets part of this description.)
I joked on Twitter the other day that with Asche, Domonic Brown and David Buchanan all at Lehigh Valley, the Phillies might just be trying to bolster an affiliate with an even worse record than the big club. But as my colleague Eric Chesterton pointed out a few days ago, this is exactly the sort of development-driven decision-making the team should embrace in a year where the only question is whether the final loss total will be closer to 100 or 110.
I think Asche probably will be fine in left—I can't imagine he wouldn't be better than Bull, Burrell, Gregg Jefferies, or so many other Phillies who've butchered that position over the years—but I'm less confident his bat will play at a position with higher offensive standards. Still, when the alternatives are further splashing around with the Grady Sizemores of the world, why not find out?
This is the luxury of low stakes: almost nothing isn't worth a try. While the Phillies waited this week for the calendar to reach a point where they wouldn't lose a year of control over Franco, Cesar Hernandez got some time at third base. Like his fellow Venezuelan Galvis, Cesar entered 2015 as a player of dubious value going forward: through 256 plate appearances, he'd posted a .264/.318/.306 line, and despite good speed his stolen base percentage was an ugly 20 percent (1/5).
But through the first month and a half this year, he's reaching base almost 40 percent of the time with a walk rate approaching 20 percent. (He's also doing this while seeing just over three pitches per plate appearance. The walks presumably aren't intentional. I kind of don't get this, and wonder if there's any precedent in baseball history.) With Chase Utley continuing to scuffle, Hernandez should get at least a couple starts a week between second base and filling in for Galvis and Franco at the other infield positions. The walks are probably a fluke—but it's worth letting him play himself into or out of the team's plans going forward.
There's a sense that this Phillies season is ultimately a painful exercise in patience: the big league team stinks, but with Franco's arrival imminent, J.P. Crawford and Aaron Nola ripening on the farm, and trades presumably coming within the next couple months, the big-league games themselves aren't all that relevant to the future of the franchise.
This isn't wrong exactly, but it misses a key point: there are about a half-dozen players on the roster who, while not well known or highly pedigreed, are young enough and cheap enough that they could contribute to the next good team as players or trade assets. Galvis, who looked like a road apple in February, now has a plausible shot at being Crawford's keystone partner in a couple years' time—or maybe staying at short while the kid moves to second base. Hernandez, Asche and others could at least secure a future as versatile reserves who can do a couple things at the plate. In a season with so many losses, these would be victories worth celebrating.