Jonathan Villar has been an aggressive and occasionally reckless baserunner this year, leading the league in stolen bases but making crucial outs on the bases, often running in situations that called for staying put on the bases.
He has been picked off first numerous times, with some of those going as a caught stealing when he left for second on the toss to first by the pitcher.
He is especially susceptible to being thrown out at third, whether running the bases or trying to steal a base. Tonight he began the game in the top of the first by fumbling a one out groundball for an error, and then on the next play ranging into the hole for a grounder that gave him no chance to get either runner - but Villar tried for the force at second instead of putting the ball in his pocket. The throw went well wide of Scooter Gennett and into rightfield where Kirk Nieuwenhuis bobbled it for the first of his three errors. The D’backs ended up with a five run inning.
In the bottom of the first Villar led off for the Brewers with a drive that went over Michael Bourn’s head in left for a double. After Scooter Gennett walked, Counsell put both runners in motion with Ryan Braun at the plate. Braun lined to right, and Yasmany Tomas doubled Gennett off of first. That left Villar at second with two down and Jonathon Lucroy at the plate. Down 5-0, Villar inexplicably took off for third and was gunned down easily by Welington Castillo to end the inning.
The Brewers never threatened again until they were down 8-0, eventually losing 8-1.
Counsell left Villar at short through the first two innings and then moved Hernan Perez to short and inserted Jake Elmore into Villar’s lead-off spot, playing third.
After the game Counsell was asked if that was a benching, and if that was an educational moment. (My apologies - I couldn’t tell who was asking the questions; all I know is that it was not Tom Haudricourt.) Counsell answered:
Yeah, yeah it was. It was due to the baserunning situation. It’s just something he has to improve on. He understands he made a mistake, and, um, we’ll just mover forward from it.
Counsell was then asked about ongoing conversations in the dugout between him and Villar:
Yeah, we were talking about the game, and we were talking about how he...just talking about the game.
On did he reach his breaking point:
I think that’s accurate. We’ve given him freedom - the base stealers have to have freedom, and then there’s some rules we put in place and we gotta follow those.
Finally, Counsell was asked if this was a one game thing.
Jonathan Villar is an very talented player that would seem to be very much in the Brewers’ plans during and after their rebuild. He has shown some pop in his bat with 8 homers and 23 doubles to go with his 36 stolen bases. His on base percentage of .377 is very good. He has average to good range at short and a good arm, but does struggle with accuracy.
With Orlando Arcia waiting at AAA for his chance at short it has been predicted that Villar will be the regular third baseman or second baseman next year. It is reasonable to assume that he will play regularly somewhere. It is conceivable that the Brewers would move him in the off season if they net solid thirdbase or secondbase prospects, or if they feel Scooter Gennett is solid enough at second to warrant giving him the job over Villar (Villar would have considerably more trade value than Gennett.)
So it’s a good sign that the Brewers are concerned enough about how Villar approaches his craft, and how he can grow his understanding of when risks are good to take and when you have to play a situation correctly. Jonathan cut down on these types of mental errors after the first month or so, but tonight just seemed like he wasn’t as engaged in the game as at other times.
Here’s hoping that today’s lesson sticks with him.