30 Players in 30 Days: Jonathan Villar
Jonathan Villar found his way to the Houston Astros in 2011 when the franchise was scorching their Earth and starting anew. The young shortstop came over in a trade for Roy Oswalt along with Anthony Gose (soon after traded to Toronto for Brett Wallace) and J.A. Happ. Villar is the only piece left from the Oswalt trade and at 24 years old has spent parts of the last three seasons with the Astros.
In 2013 and 2014, Villar flashed both his physical capabilities and mental lapses. More of the same followed in 2015 for Villar as he bounced between Triple-A Fresno and the Astros before ultimately losing out on the shortstop job for Carlos Correa.
Imagine Player A and B in the table below. Take a look and guess which shortstop was an All-Star and ALCS MVP in 2015 and which fell out of favor with many of his team’s fans.
[table id=30 /]
Player A is Villar and B is the Kansas City Royals’ Alcides Escobar. Of course Escobar does most of his damage as a defensive wizard with plus speed, but Villar has shown an ability to do the same.
Villar began the 2015 season as a utility player and backup shortstop to Jed Lowrie, but was sent down early in April after recording only one hit in his first 13 at-bats. The demotion did not last long, though, as Jed Lowrie suffered an injury that kept him out for nearly three months and Villar was given a chance to split shortstop time with Marwin Gonzalez.
Villar responded to the opportunity in a strong way – posting a .317/.354/.433 line in 23 games in May. Still, many had eyes on Correa at Triple-A and the potential Super Two cutoff date in June. A bad storm followed for the Astros and Villar at the start of June as the team lost five straight games early on and Villar struggled.
The tension between Astros fans and their call to replace Villar with Correa came to a climax on June 7 in Toronto. The Astros blew a 9th-inning lead and Villar botched a Jose Bautista infield pop up by trying to reach over Jose Reyes standing on second base. Villar became – maybe unrightfully so – the scapegoat for the Astros woes and Correa was called up later on that day.
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Villar received his second demotion of the season just days later to make room for Vince Velasquez and remained in Fresno until September when rosters expanded.
In the spare playing time that he received, Villar posted a solid final month by recording eight hits and six runs scored in just 21 at-bats. Still, there were times when he was called upon as a pinch runner and lapsed on the bases and cost the team an out and potential run.
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What to expect in 2016
The young shortstop has great speed, can make stellar plays on the field and hit at a decent clip for the position, but often makes mistakes that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
Villar will be competing with Gonzalez to earn playing time at shortstop in case Correa and Lowrie are unavailable. Villar’s best shot at earning playing time would be a continued effort to learn every position on the field and become a super utility like Gonzalez.
At just 24 years old, Villar still has time to mature and match his mental game with his natural ability. There is no longer any pressure on him to be “the guy” next to Jose Altuve in the middle of the infield and it may work in his favor, but he will have to fight for a roster spot next April.