Up the Middle: Jonathan Villar
In some strange twist of the MLB blackout rule continuum, I get zero Cleveland Indians’ broadcasts despite living just one hour south of the city. Fortunately, I do get all of the Reds’ broadcasts, and while writing this post I’m watching the Reds take on the Houston Astros. I have to admit, I dig the Astros mainly because of their young talent. One of these players is shortstop Jonathan Villar. I won’t dwell on the recent unpleasantness with Brandon Phillips in which Villar made contact with @DatDudeBP’s twitter in a way that is typically reserved for amateur pornography. I will mention, however, that since the beginning of September Villar has been one of the more valuable fantasy players at the shortstop position with 9 runs scored, 5 stolen bases, and a .330 batting average.
Villar was called up on July 22nd, and since then he has stolen 17 bags in 47 games. That includes a 20-game stretch in August in which he stole only one base and was caught three times. What that translates to is roughly a stolen base every 11 plate appearances. To put that in perspective, that’s a better clip than MLB stolen base leaders Jacoby Ellsbury (1/12 PA) and Jean Segura (1/14 PA). Guess who will cost you less in trade/draft value next year? Hint: his name rhymes with key-tar (one of my fave instruments). Speaking of Segura, his 40+ stolen bases have been really valuable, even with the well-documented decline in power and batting average in the second half. Villar could be a similar bargain in that he did not enter the year as a hyped prospect and really doesn’t offer a ton of value in categories other than stolen bases.
Stolen bases have value nonetheless, and they account for 20% of most roto league offensive scoring statistics (if you read my Razzball posts you know I have an affinity for the stolen base). Pairing Villar with a more well rounded hitter could give you a really nice one-two punch out of your middle infield. And to be fair, Villar isn’t entirely empty steals, either. Given that the Astros are going to continue to infuse their lineup with talent from their minor league system, Villar should have opportunities to contribute decent run totals out of the leadoff spot. Holding him back seems to be the nasty strikeout percentage at 27%. If the 22-year-old can shave that down even just a little bit, his BB% (10%) and .360 OBP should lead to even more opportunities to steal bases and score runs. Villar also has the ability to put the ball over the fence, with 33 homers over his last three seasons in the minor leagues. He hit his first major league homer just last week, but over a full season, it’s not absurd to think he could hit 10 homers to go along with some gaudy stolen base numbers.
For dynasty league owners, there’s the obvious question of what happens to Villar in a year or two when some kid named Carlos Correa begins his major league career, but that’s still a ways away. Personally, I don’t like to avoid acquiring players simply because there is a talented prospect behind them. A lot can happen with position changes, trades, injuries, etc., and Villar has value now as both a leadoff hitter and a base stealer for an Astros club that could see their talented farm system bearing fruit as soon as next year. I’m assuming there will be some drills on how to avoid a “butt-tag” next spring.