Spring training has been fun for the Padres and their fans so far.
The young talent has been on full display, with some surprising developments, one of them being third baseman Christian Villanueva. After his hot September last season when he hit .344 with four home runs in 12 games, fans started to wonder where this guy came from.
First of all, he came from Mexico. Guadalajara, to be exact. He has been well-seasoned in the minors, now 26 years old and entering his tenth professional season. He was signed in 2009 by the Rangers as an amateur free agent. It has taken him this long to find his groove, but you know what they say, “better late than never.” 26 years old is still relatively young in baseball years and he could still have a fine career ahead of him.
He has done nothing to dampen those expectations built in September during the early parts of this spring.
Villanueva seems to constantly be making solid contact, even when making an out. He leads all Padres hitters with nine hits and 10 RBI, good enough for second and third in the Cactus League respectively. His three home runs have also been of the “frozen rope” variety, easily clearing the fence. Confidence oozes from him in every at-bat.
The fact is, Villanueva is out of minor league options.
This means if he is not on the Opening Day roster, he will be subjected to waivers. This could mean the Padres lose Villanueva to another team and get nothing in return. This makes Villanueva’s chances to be on the starting 25-man roster more likely than some others. His torching-hot spring will also make it harder for the Padres to ignore him, not that they want to. With an aging Chase Headley likely penciled in as the starting third baseman, having Villanueva off the bench is certainly an option to consider.
There are reports that because of his hot spring start, he is also taking some work at shortstop, perhaps making a case to be a backup shortstop as well as third base.
Christian Villanueva with another bomb today to go with a 2B. With no more options making strong early case to share 3B duties with Headley. Green also said he could be non-conventional SS back up to Galvis. #StakingClaim #PadresST
— Bob Scanlan (@heyscan) March 2, 2018
I initially scoffed at the idea of Villanueva taking reps at shortstop, as he is not the typical build for the most important and athletically demanding infield position, at 5-11, 210 pounds. Then I remember I at first stuck my nose up at Yangervis Solarte (5-11, 205) playing shortstop last season. I ate crow soon after as he actually posted +1 Defensive Runs Saved in 199 inning at short. It sounds like the Padres are thinking outside of the box (or at least outside of third base) to get Villanueva on the Opening Day roster. I would assume the Friars would prefer to have him on the 25-man roster and try to make a fit than lose him altogether.
Villanueva has shown great improvement and it is time to reward him. It’s time to see what he can do at the major league level, as we have gotten a small taste here in Peoria. He is out of minor league options and the Padres seem to be out of them too.