When the Brewers acquired Jonathan Villar from David Stearns' old haunts we weren't really sure what his role would be with the team. He'd never really played third base, but that seemed the path of least resistance for him at the time. Since then Jean Segura was traded in a move that brought in several players including Aaron Hill. Third base was no longer an option, but shortstop was. And that's exactly where Villar will open the season. But how long will he last in that role?
Villar was the Houston Astros "shortstop of the future" before Carlos Correa surpassed him by miles. It didn't help that he struggled both offensively and defensively for a few years and disappointing in his first two major league stints. By 2015 he had become something of an afterthought for the organization. But their loss could be Milwaukee's huge gain.
The reason for my optimism comes from Villar's 2015 campaign. He split the season between AAA and MLB and had the best offseason year of his career. In 313 AAA plate appearances he hit 271/342/407 with 5 home runs and 35 stolen bases. Then in 128 MLB plate appearances he hit 284/339/414 with 2 home runs and 7 stolen bases.
Normally I'd caution against reading too much into this. It's a small sample size at the major league level and it was his third season playing at the AAA level. It's also only about league average production at both stops. But he only turned 24 last May so he wasn't "too old" for his levels or anything. Sometimes it just takes guys time to figure it all out. Baseball is hard. I'm not saying that Villar definitely did figure it all out. But it's a pretty big deal if he did.
Defensively he has the tools to be an above average defender at shortstop. But no matter how good he ends up being this year, he's only keeping the spot warm for Orlando Arcia. He's the Brewers SS of the future, and that future probably begins by mid-season. At that point in time, Villar will need to find a new role to play. His performance, the performance of others, and possible trades will play a factor. But long term I see his best fit being second base where he could be a plus defender. That's an intriguing thought to me, because that would give the Brewers plus defenders at both middle infield spots.
I find myself struggling to contain my excitement over Jonathan Villar. And really I shouldn't get my hopes up too much. That leads to disaster because there is every chance Villar's season last year was a fluke. But the upside is substantial. He'll never be an All-Star caliber player and he might never be worth more than 3 wins in a season. But a strong defensive second baseman with borderline elite level speed is very intriguing. If he reaches that upside we're looking at one of baseballs most dynamic middle infields with him and Arcia for years to come.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs