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Padres rookie Christian Villanueva: Can he keep this up?

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Padres rookie is 6-for-10 in his last three games. Who is this guy?

San Franciso Giants v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

From Minor League Ball community member Chicago’s Cardinal 3:

Hey John,

Any way we can get an update on Christian Villanueva? Big numbers early this year. I’ve read you liked him a lot back in 2012. At 26, do you think he can maintain the numbers he’s putting up or what will he come back to earth to doing??

Thanks.

This is a timely question, given what Villanueva has done in his last three games for the San Diego Padres: 6-for-10 with three homers and three walks. He’s hitting .333/.423/.823 through 14 games with four doubles, six homers, four walks and 17 strikeouts in 45 at-bats.

Let’s not forget how well he hit for the Padres when promoted to the majors last year: 11-for-32 (.344) with four homers. Through this morning Villanueva has hit .338/.393/.792 with 10 homers in 77 major league at-bats.

Yeah, I know, small sample. And he’s not a young prospect at age 26. But still.

I did like Villanueva as a prospect a few years back. My first write-up for him was in 2011 when he was in the Rangers system:

Signed out of Mexico in 2009, Villanueva showed he could hit for average with gap power in the Arizona Rookie League last year, while also impressing observers with his defense at the hot corner. He’s a bit error-prone at this point, but his range and arm strength are better-than-average at third base, and with more experience the errors should decline. Offensively, his bat is quick but his strike zone judgment could use some work, and it remains to be seen how his power will develop since he’s not a big guy. Grade C, but has the potential to improve.

He had a solid 2011 Low-A season and I wrote this for 2012:

Villanueva made big strides on defense last year, cutting down on errors and showing a slick glove at third base, even receiving a few innings of work at shortstop. He also boosted his power production, posting a +11 percent OPS, along with a .321 SEC that shows a broad range of skills. He can be impatient at the plate, but he makes contact. Villanueva’s running speed is just a hair above average, but he is an excellent baserunner, and Rangers officials are full of praise for his makeup and work ethic. The main flaw in his profile is a very sharp home/road split, .924 OPS at home, .699 in the rest of the Sally League. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to the Carolina League, but I think he made some real progress last year. Grade B-.

He was traded to the Cubs and I wrote this for 2013:

The Cubs acquired Villanueva from the Rangers last summer in the Ryan Dempster deal. Signed out of Mexico in 2008, he’s a very solid prospect but was considered surplus in the Texas system. He should have an easier time finding a place to play in Chicago. Villanueva’s tools are average across the board to a tick above, which might not sound exciting but also means he has no huge weaknesses. He’s an excellent defensive third baseman, possibly Gold Glove caliber if he hits enough to play regularly. He can also handle second base and shortstop, giving him possibilities as a super-utility player if necessary. Villanueva has a quick bat and gap power, but his plate discipline needs some work, and it remains to be seen how many homers he’ll hit at higher levels. He’s quite young at age 21, and has a reputation as a strong makeup guy. I like him. Grade B-.

The Cubs drafted Kris Bryant a few months later so the “getting a better opportunity in Chicago” stuff turned out to be completely wrong. He stalled out in the high minors then missed all of 2016 with a broken leg.

The Padres picked him up as a free agent for 2017 and he performed well in Triple-A (.296/.369/.528). As noted he ripped in the majors late last year and he’s doing it again this season.

Fluke or no?

Sort of, but not quite.

He’s not really a .338 hitter (few are) or even a .300 hitter but I think he can hit .250-.260 over a full season. Although he’s not a walk machine, based on what I’ve seen from him in Triple-A I think his strike zone judgment is better than his current 4/27 career BB/K ratio implies. As for the power, 10 homers in 77 at-bats, well, nobody will sustain that. But could he hit 20+ homers in a full season? Certainly. I wouldn’t put 25-30 past him given the current state of the game.

Villanueva’s defense didn’t turn out to be as good as I expected, as he lost range with physical maturity, but he’s still playable if he hits enough.

I don’t think he sustains his current hot streak, but will he hit well enough overall to have a career? Sure.