Jonathan Villar, Shortstop, Houston Astros
2013 season (minors): 91 G, 339 AB, .277 BA, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 31 SB, .784 OPS
2013 season (majors): 58 G, 210 AB, .243 BA, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 18 SB, .640 OPS
Jonathan Villar is yet another of the many young international free agents to break into the Major Leagues last season. The Houston Astros’ shortstop got some time in the bigs last season to showcase his biggest weapon: speed. This season we should see a lot more of that speed on the basepaths.
Signed by the Philadelphia Phillies back in 2008 as a 17-year-old amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic, Villar made his ability on the basepaths evident immediately. He swiped 28 bases in only 62 games that season in Rookie ball. While his average was mediocre (.271), he still got on base, where he was the most dangerous.
Villar played in only 42 games the following year, but still managed 17 steals in 19 attempts. In 2010, the youngster finally broke out. He had 38 steals and a .272 average in 100 games with the Phillies’ Single-A affiliate. Soon after, Villar was acquired by the Astros, along with J.A. Happ and Anthony Gose, in exchange for pitcher Roy Oswalt. Villar was placed at High-A Lancaster but struggled in 32 games, stealing seven bases with a .294 on-base percentage.
The following season Villar got it going again. He played 130 games between two levels and had 34 steals with a surprising 14 home runs. His plate discipline was lacking, however, as he struck out 153 times. Villar stuck at Double-A Corpus Christi for the entirety of 2012 and had 39 steals in 86 games. He hit just .261 but had a relatively high .336 OBP.
At 22-years-old, Villar began last season at Triple-A and had his best overall season in the Minor Leagues. After 91 games, he was called up by the Astros and immediately caught the attention of opponents. Villar swiped 18 bags in 58 games despite languishing at the plate with a .243 average and 71 strikeouts.
Although Villar is a mediocre hitter, his speed is too much of an asset to keep out of the lineup. The Astros have slated him to start at shortstop and bat ninth this season. Hitting last in the order, Villar doesn’t need a .300 average, as long as he can keep it around .260 with an OBP around .330. (Both should be higher, but these will do for now.) His speed, along with reasonable numbers at the plate, could make him an important table-setter for the top of the lineup.
Looking back at the Oswalt trade, Villar ended up as the most valuable piece of the deal. Gose was immediately shipped off to Toronto for Brett Wallace, and Happy was sent to Toronto as well in 2012. Oswalt has since retired.
Next up: Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers