Buying Jonathan Villar

I had Jonathan Villar late last season in a league I needed some extra speed in (net stolen bases) and he gave me a solid 10 steals over the last third of the season. I had him in a dynasty league as well so I have been monitoring him for some while. The Astros have had a solid core of shortstops in their system with Villar then on the verge of major league play and Carlos Correa and Nolan Fontana further down the minors behind him. Villar got overshadowed due to Correa’s incredible upside, but he is now becoming a more common name among fantasy circles due to his impressive speed.

One issue with only focusing on his speed is that we forget that he has actually displayed a decent deal of power in the minors. Yes he had just one home run in over 200 plate appearances in the majors last year, but he hit eight in triple-A before being brought up, hit 11 home runs in 86 games at double-A in 2012, and hit 14 homers between high-A and double-A in 2011. He has shown a bit of pop, and ZiPS and Steamer both have him in double digits this year.

So, why then is Villar owned in just 22% of leagues this year? We don’t expect him to help much in the average or on base department, though he is more attractive in on base leagues due to an often solid walk rate, but double digit steals and potentially 40 stolen bases makes Villar a must own in pretty much all formats. The name of offense in fantasy is homers and steals. There are obviously a few guys who only do one or the other, but when you get a stolen base specialist who can pop another 10 or so homers in a year your eyebrows should rise up.

For example, although Jed Lowrie is a better player and probably even a bit more valuable in most fantasy formats, in a league I own both I’m starting Villar over him due to the lack of speed Lowrie possesses. Shortstop is a position where it’s hard to just forfeit speed, and Villar’s best asset combined with the fact that he can hit it out of the park, as he did yesterday, makes him the more viable starter in my particular situation. That doesn’t mean Villar is the patently the better option, but on a case by case basis Villar will have a lot of usefulness – especially for those that have a middle infield spot.

My one concern with Villar is his defense. It may be so lackluster in terms of errors that they play him less – he made 16 in just 58 games last year. Thankfully the Astros don’t quite have anyone on the verge of taking playing time away from him, but that could change over the course of the year if Fontana hits well at double-A. I think he is safe, but it is at least a slight concern of mine.

All in all, it makes little sense to let Villar sit on the waiver wire rather than being rostered in pretty much all formats. Projection systems don’t love his average or on base skills, but even at middling levels if he achieves double digit homers and 35 or more steals then he will be one of better value bets at shortstop this season. He’s at least a good buy and hold candidate to trade to an owner in need of speed later in the year.

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Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.

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I wouldn’t worry about Fontana challenging Villar this year. Fontana’s hit tool isn’t great and it’s a big concern, and many say his glove at SS is suspect and he’ll eventually be a utility IF or 2b. Not the type of guy that quickly forces his way on the roster unless there’s a couple injuries throughout the system.

Houston seems set on giving Villar all the opportunities – he has plenty of tools but is definitely out once Correa is ready, so Houston needs to know what they have.