Jonathan Villar has flown a bit below the radar since his signing with the Philadelphia Phillies out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. After being dealt to Houston in the Roy Oswalt trade in 2010, he’s steadily moved through the Astros system.
While he’s only been league average at most stops along the way, Villar now finds himself in the majors at 22, being given every opportunity to permanently win the shortstop job, if you believe the team.
Villar doesn’t come with a great deal of prospect pedigree. Marc Hulet ranked him sixth in the Astros system in 2012 (10th in 2011) but thought his upside was too low (“utility guy”) to make the top-15 this season. He’s only cracked Baseball America’s Top-100 list once, coming in at number 94 in 2011. So there doesn’t appear there is much to be excited about.
However, the fact that Villar is older than just nine other players this season (using “Season Age,” not actual date of birth) is impressive. And since he’s been given lead-off duties and stolen four bases in seven games since his call up, people are interested, pushing his ownership tag up to 3.1% in ESPN leagues (4% in Yahoo).
But is there much to like here? Villar is known mostly for his defense and his strikeout rates have been pretty extreme in the minors (above 23% consistently). But he’s matched the whiffs with a decent approach that has landed his walk rate around 8%, giving him some additional OBP value beyond what is sure to be a mediocre average.
With the strikeouts and the lack of a batting average track record despite a high BABIP, it’s hard to see much average upside here. The average isn’t likely to be a concern though, considering his position. Andrelton Simmons is the 12th ranked shortstop in fantasy value this year and he’s batting .251. Elvis Andrus and J.J. Hardy are basically doing the same and rank higher. At shortstop, players are ownable at a pretty low threshold so long as they can provide some category juice.
Villar can likely do that. The speedster averaged 52 stolen bases per 150 games in his time in the minors and has hit the ground running this past week, so to speak, with the aforementioned four stolen bases. He also had an 80% success rate in the minors, a mark that stayed steady as he rose to Double-A and Triple-A. There’s little doubt that Villar can run and do so effectively. And as mentioned, thanks to a decent walk rate, his OBP has a chance to be average or just below, giving him ample opportunity.
Villar is ownable right now for the speed alone. But dynasty league players might be curious about his long term power upside as well, since a shortstop that can go .250-10-30 is immensely valuable. Villar stroked 11 homers per 150 games in the minors and has a frame that you could see additional bulk on as he ages. His isolated slugging has been consistently in the .150-range since High-A ball (though his slugging is low because of the paltry averages). There’s definitely 10-home run power in his bat now and that could eventually be a consistent 15.
Villar isn’t going to wow anybody at the dish, but the bar is so low at the shortstop position that he’s a recommended add right now for the speed and a longer-term option due to his power potential.