Christian Villanueva Rates As Rare Rangers Sleeper

This was written in January, but is being re-posted with Villanueva on his way to Chicago as part of the Ryan Dempster trade.

In 2011, Hickory was a hotbed of minor league talent including the best true shortstop prospect in baseball and multiple first round picks in catcher Kellin Deglan, center fielder Jake Skole and pitcher Luke Jackson. If not for being blown away by Boston Red Sox shortstop prospect Xander Bogaerts, my trip to Greenville would have been highlighted by a modestly performing, all but unknown third base prospect named Christian Villanueva. Villanueva went on to belt 10 home runs and steal 14/15 bases over the final two months of the season raising his prospect profile to legitimate sleeper.

Overall, Christian Villanueva joined former Marlins first round pick Christian Yelich, along with top-10 Red Sox prospect Brandon Jacobs as the only prospects in the league who belted 15 or more home runs and swiped 30-plus bags. And while Yelich and Jacobs rode exorbitantly high BABIP’s to the prospect promise land, Villanueva’s .300 mark was more sustainable than sexy leading to his being overlooked.

In batting practice, Villanueva consistently utilized quick, explosive hands and a level swing plane to pepper line drives to left-centerfield with a handful leaving the park each session. Additionally, he crushed a home run to left field off of what was admittedly a fringe average fastball at best in game action, but it was truly a “no doubter” which ricocheted off of the brick condominiums behind the Green Monster of Fluor Field.

Command of the strike zone is a key aspect of Villanueva’s game to monitor going forward. Strong contact skills are an asset, but when a young player expands the strike zone like Villanueva did, it will lead to poor contact on batted balls and higher strikeout rates. This is also the likely reason for a BABIP a touch low for his speed tool and low walk rates.

On defense, Villanueva is in the top three of third baseman I’ve had the opportunity to scout along with Marlins Matt Dominguez and Phillies Travis Mattair. He possesses lightning quick feet, soft hands and a strong throwing arm leaving little doubt as to whether Villanueva can stick at third base long term. In fact, Villanueva’s defensive skills and body control are so strong, second base seems like a viable option where his offensive skill set would be a better fit. However, with only two third basemen posting four win seasons compared to six at second base in 2011, third base appears to be in the midst of a down period in terms of overall talent at the Major League level.

With 32 stolen bases in 38 attempts, Villanueva has enough speed to project as an elite base stealer at his position. Of course Diamondbacks Ryan Roberts led qualified third baseman with 18 and was the only one in double-digits, so the bar isn’t exactly set very high. As for Villanueva, he will lose a step or two at full physical maturity, but his agility and quickness will allow him to maximize the speed he does have. At the big league level, he projects as a player who should average about 15 steals annually.

For me, the best part of scouting a game in person are those rare instances when an unknown prospect forces me to take notice. Each year, those opportunities are less than a reader would assume as maybe a half dozen players, if that, truly fit the criteria. Of those players, Christian Villanueva was the best of the bunch in 2011 and ranked only behind Jurickson Profar in terms of position prospects on that ball club.

A comp to Braves Martin Prado is imperfect, but provides some insight into the type of value Villanueva projects for at the Major League level. At 20, Villanueva and Prado posted similar OPS numbers (.803 to .785) in the South Atlantic league behind a trade off of power (Villanueva) for on base skills (Prado). However, Villanueva’s potential for positional flexibility, double-digit home run totals at the Major League level, and modest walk rates work quite well. Villanueva’s strong defensive skills may be the kicker which allows him a higher peak WAR projection.

Between Villanueva and Mike Olt, the Rangers organization boasts two solid third base prospects with Adrian Beltre signed through at least 2015. This organizational depth can be used to add pieces at the big league level via trade, or as insurance in case of injury. Villanueva will never be a true centerpiece of a deal for a player such as Matt Garza, but would be an excellent addition as a third or fourth piece of a larger package.

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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.

16 Responses to “Christian Villanueva Rates As Rare Rangers Sleeper”

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  1. I don’t think Villanueva is unheralded, exactly, but he falls into the category of potential breakout candidates that are probably only known by prospectophiles of specific teams.

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  2. Socrates says:

    At this point it is pretty clear that Daniels is running a superior organization in Texas. I actually think their system is the best at this point. TB isnt nearly as deep and KC has graduated many of their prospects (less because their maturity and more because of the lack of talent on the Major league squad).

    In Texas some prospects are actually being held back by the talent on the big club. Olt, Perez, Martin, and Ramirez just to name a few. They could easily all be slotted into MLB duty on most other teams. Instead the system stays stock.

    Also there will be no rush on guys like Profar and Beltre because of the depth.

    Just a well run organization.

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    • t ball says:

      I don’t think their system is #1, but it’s probably in the top 5 and could look even better if a few of the lower level wild cards take a step forward (David Perez and the 2011 J2 signings, for example).

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      • Jeff Reese says:

        If Darvish signs, Texas will be the top farm system to me. Don’t think he’ll sign by the time we release our ORG rankings, so I don’t mind giving out a potential spoiler.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      In previous years, I felt the prospect laden Hickory squads were overrated. In 2011, Profar, Villanueva, Mendez and Buckel were all better than I was expecting.

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  3. Dave says:

    As a Ranger fan, its nice to hear that the Farm system is in as good a position as it has been in recent years despite trades at the deadline during the last two seasons that wiped out quite a few of our mid to higher level prospects. With that said, its impossible for me to assess if the Rangers have the top farm system without including any bias, but i do know that they have done a decent job internationally and in the draft over the last 5 years. They have stocked a bunch of high ceiling lower level talent at up the middle positions, but on the downside, most of these players are still a few years off and some need to make significant improvements in order to realize their potential. With that said though, I am all for the strategy of high ceiling, low floor players – as the few that do hit will hopefully make it all worthwhile.

    Some players in the lower levels that still need a lot of work but have star potential are Jordan Akins, David Perez, Nomar Mazara, Ronald Guzman, Luis Sardinas, Rougned Odor, Jorge Alfaro and Will Lamb to name a few, and some that are even further away due to setbacks like injuries like Wilmer Font, Melo, and Boscan.

    Keith Law said he thinks the San Diego farm system is the best right now (before Rizzo trade), so it would be interesting to hear your take on how these systems compare and which of the two has more higher upside players.

    Question: Roman Mendez insanely improved his command/control this year and it led to the best season he’s had yet in the minors. Granted that it is only one season, but would he receive any consideration as a top 100 prospect based on his performance/upside and stuff (touches 99mph/ developing secondaries? Guys have shot into top prospect status before after one good season, so what is Mendez’s shortcoming as a top prospect (if he has one) and what is his ceiling?

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  4. Snowcourt says:

    I read somewhere, I think Baseball America, that the Rangers had the best defensive 3B dude at Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A, and the Majors too!! Talk about “cornering” the market. Lol

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  5. Dave says:

    I havent actually seen Mendez in person, but the scouting reports that came out after he was acquired for Salty all stated he had upper 90s heat or touched 98-99mph, but obviously the numbers could be wrong. Id be interested to here your take on him Mike whenever you do get around to writing that scouting report.

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  6. Scott says:

    He’ll never be the centerpiece of a deal for Garza but he sure did just bring them Dempster….

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    • Dr_Caligari says:

      And that’s because Dempster only had a couple months left on his contract. Beyond that, there was another player involved even in a deal for a short-term rental. That was written at a time where there would have been 2 full seasons of Garza.

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