One player I'm watching closely this spring is infielder Jonathan Villar of the Houston Astros. First, the comment I wrote for him from the 2013 Baseball Prospect Book:
Jonathan Villar, SS, Houston Astros
Bats: S Throws: R HT: 6-1 WT: 180 DOB: May 2, 1991
2010 Grade C; 2011: Grade C; 2012: Grade B-
Good news/bad news for Jonathan Villar in 2012. On the positive side, he cut his strikeout rate in his second go-around the Texas League, along with a slight uptick in walks. He did a much better job using his speed on the bases, showing that the 70-level running tool isn't going to waste, stealing 39 bases in 47 attempts. He improved a bit on defense, showing a tad more reliability while continuing to demonstrate a cannon throwing arm and above-average range. He was still young for Double-A at age 21.
On the negative side, he was still quite frustrating at times, with a strikeout rate that remains very high and a tendency to make careless mistakes. His final line of .261/.336/.396 wasn't much different than the .231/.301/.386 mark he posted at that level in '11. He also cost himself two months of playing time by punching a door in frustration and breaking his hand. Villar has star-caliber tools but his level of skill is improving only slowly. He could still develop into a very good regular, but he could also be just a utility guy, or a total washout. Grade B-.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: Villar is 1-for-13 with four strikeouts so far this spring and clearly needs a good run in Triple-A. His best attribute at this point is simple youth: he turns 22 in May, and no one is going to give up on his tools quickly. He originally signed with the Phillies for $105,000 in 2008, so he wasn't a budget-buster guy.
The Phils are usually quite active in Latin America but prefer to spread their bonuses out and usually don't dump a giant sum on one player at a time. The biggest bonus they've ever given out on the Latin American market was $759,000 to Venezuelan outfield prospect Carlos Tocci in 2011. Villar's $105,000 is more representative of their typical approach.
As for the Astros, at one time they had an outstanding Latin American program but it was allowed to deteriorate due to budget cuts and ownership neglect. It will be interesting to see what strategy Jeff Luhnow and company adopt as they work to revive the system.