Originally acquired in the 2010 Roy Oswalt trade as a 19-year old prospect, Jonathan Villar made his big league debut last year with the Astros. Handed the everyday shortstop job and inserted into the leadoff spot in the lineup, the speedy 22-year old hit .243/.321/.319 in 241 plate appearances with Houston.
Amassing 18 stolen bases in 26 attempts, Villar showed that speed is his most dependable asset. Jonathan also flashed some leather in the big leagues, making a number of highlight reel defensive plays. He did, however, have an occasional mental lapse — both on the basepaths, and in the field. Those mental errors resulted in at least a couple of trips to Bo Porter‘s proverbial doghouse.
Despite the youngster’s inconsistencies, Porter stuck with him as the starter for the duration of the season. Lacking a better option at the position, the Astros seemed determined to get a good long look at Villar — perhaps in an attempt to gauge his future with the club. Struggling to stay above the Mendoza line, Jonathan was moved to the bottom of the batting order. He responded with a hot streak and was moved back into the leadoff spot, where he remained for the last three weeks of the season.
Even with his mediocre statistics, which seem to be a good indication of what we can expect going forward, the Astros have tabbed Villar as their starter at short for the 2014 season. Free Agents Cesar Izturis and Gregorio Petit, both of whom were recently signed to minor league contracts, should be his toughest competition heading into Spring Training. Marwin Gonzalez is also in the mix but would appear to be battling to hold onto his job as the primary backup.
The Astros seem to be taking a bit of a gamble with Villar as the everyday starter. Perhaps they see something that I don’t. The 24/71 BB/K ratio posted in his rookie year basically mirrors his minor league numbers. Although the strikeout totals are high, at least he draws an occasional walk. That is definitely more of a positive for a base stealer than it is for some other players.
Villar’s power production dropped off a bit last season. After posting double-digit homeruns in his age 20 and 21 seasons, Jonathan appeared to be developing as an above average power hitter for his position. Eight of the nine longballs Jonathan hit in 2013 came while he was at AAA Oklahoma City. He also failed to go deep in his most recent 72 at-bats in the Dominican Winter League.
Overall, Villar produced a 0.0 WAR in 58 games with the 2013 Astros. Without significant improvement in at least one aspect of his game it is going to be difficult for Villar to stick in the big leagues. Is he ready to take the next step? I’d say we are about to find out.