Galvis, Hernandez turning heads in outfield

galvishernandezap.jpg

Galvis, Hernandez turning heads in outfield

WASHINGTON -- It’s weird to think of Ryne Sandberg as anything but the Gold Glover and Hall of Famer. But when Sandberg was coming up with the Phillies and Cubs, he was essentially a man without a position.

Primarily a shortstop and third baseman, Sandberg said his managers moved him around the diamond before he settled into second base. In fact, Sandberg says he even played some outfield.

Ryne Sandberg, the Hall of Fame centerfielder?

“When I was first traded to the Cubs, I played a handful of games in center field because I was swinging the bat a little bit,” Sandberg said before Friday night’s game at Nationals Park. “I was playing some third, backing up a little at second as a utility type of thing.

“I hit well the whole spring, so they were looking for a position that was open and centerfield was one, third base was another. I played about a handful out there.”

So maybe Sandberg understands what it’s like for Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez to play the outfield for the first time. Galvis and Hernandez, two natural middle infielders, were major-league ready -- only their positions weren’t open.

No problem. Sandberg and the Phillies found a couple of spots in the outfield and for the second game in a row, Galvis is in left and his double-play partner Hernandez is in center.

“Freddy has experience on the left side of the infield at short and third, but that being said he’s also played second base and the outfield,” Sandberg said. “So he is more versatile than Cesar as we speak. But to have both guys around, in the mix, it makes it interesting and a good problem. It creates depth in case of an injury, which is good.

“I would like to see Cesar to get some work on the left side of the diamond, but I don’t know when that will happen. That’s a down-the-road thing, maybe a winter-ball thing. To be the super-utility guy who can play on both sides of the diamond and in the outfield, that’s versatile.”

So far it’s worked out well. Galvis and Hernandez have settled into the new positions well.

Galvis played some left field during spring training, but played 580 of his 586 minor-league games at shortstop. The other six were at second base or third base.

Hernandez has played 567 minor-league games, but never stepped into the outfield until he went back to Lehigh Valley after a brief call up to the majors in May and June. Still, Hernandez got just 21 games in the outfield before he rejoined the Phillies, where he’s played 10 of 11 games in center.

That’s quite a switch for the second baseman.

“It was a long way from home plate,” Hernandez said in Spanish. “Used to being so close to the action, so I kind of get that. I understand it. To go out there, you really have to be in the game. When you’re an infielder and you go to the outfield, you really have to focus a little more on the game because home plate is further away from you and it feels like maybe at times, if you haven’t been out there at all, the ball is not gonna be hit to you.

“Whereas the infield, you’re on the balls of your feet, glove down, really low waiting for the hot shot. Out there, it’s like that, but you really have to stay focused if the ball is coming your way.”

Hernandez seems to be a natural in center field. Sandberg said Hernandez gets good reads on fly balls and has a strong arm that translates well from the infield to the outfield. Part of that is because of Hernandez’s speed, but also because he’s a pretty good baseball player who understands the game.

“His athletic ability is allowing him to play the position pretty well right now for the lack of experience that he has, the reads off the bat that he’d normally have,” Sandberg said. “He’s had some plays right at him, handled sinking liners very nice. He’s had balls hit over his head, but his stride and his foot speed [are good].

“His speed to the gaps has been very good. He’s called off corner outfielders on balls. He’s been a pleasant surprise. It’s not an easy position by no means, but I think his athletic ability has allowed him to cover the position very well and he finds himself in the lineup.”

It hasn’t been easy for Hernandez and he admits he still has a lot of work to do. But if moving from second base to the outfield gets him playing time in the big leagues, Hernandez will happily wear the glove.

“It’s not for everybody, but you get guys that can play different positions like a lot of our guys have and have that ability, that’s a good thing down the road,” Hernandez said. “You never know when they’ll need it. For a young player to have some versatility, that’s how you become a regular.

“That position opens up and you have some experience there, and basically that’s what happened to me. I was able to break in because there was an opening at third base and I had never played third base. It used to be taught that way, for guys to break in possibly as a utility player and one day earn the right to be a regular. That was the mentality.

“For that, I needed to learn two or three positions. When an opening came up, they were good to go, and then they became a regular.”

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."