The San Diego Padres are experimenting with a few different positional changes as the 2018 season comes to an end.
San Diego Padres third baseman, soon to be utility man, Christian Villanueva has had a solid 2018 rookie campaign. If it weren’t for the unbelievable play of Atlanta Braves rookie Ronald Acuna Jr and Washington Nationals teenage sensation Juan Soto, we would probably see Villanueva’s name at least in the discussion for 2018 National League Rookie of the Year. Now, Andy Green and the Padres are trying to find a role for him, moving forward.
Just a few days ago, Villanueva played first base and did a workable job. It was just a one-game sample size but he didn’t look completely lost and as if his play at first is going to cost the team any victories (not like that matters at the moment, anyway). Friday night, Villanueva slotted in at second base, highlighting his play by completing a double play.
Turning the double play looked fairly smooth but keep in mind, it was Jeff Mathis who he had to gun down at first base. Let’s see what he can do when he’s challenged by a baserunner with any sort of speed.
As pointed out by AJ Cassavell, Villanueva may also see plenty of time at shortstop in the next few weeks as the Padres determine if Villy is capable of serving in a utility role, with the ability to slot in at any infield spot.
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If he can play all four positions, that gives him the advantage over Corey Spangenberg and Carlos Asuaje, two guys who have played the utility role throughout this season.
Asuaje has had spurts of big play at the plate but has been unable to put together a string of positive starts. He’s slashing .199/.290/.285 with a 62 wRC+ and -0.6 WAR. Spangenberg has been extremely hot through the month of August but is putting up similar numbers, offensively, compared to Villanueva. Spangenberg also has extreme L/R splits, hitting just .162 against LHP, as Villanueva hits .188 against RHP (compared to .336 against LHP). Villanueva’s full stat line versus left-handed pitchers reads: .336 average, .396 OBP, 1.130 OPS, 201 wRC+, and an 8.2% walk rate (up more than 3% compared to the right side).
The moving force behind the positional changes for Villanueva is the move of Wil Myers to third base, a move that will be a highly positive move for the San Diego Padres if Myers can stick. This allows another outfielder to earn regular playing time (Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero to start 2019?).
However, I would like to point out Villanueva’s Sprint Speed, according to Statcast. Among all third baseman in the majors, Villy ranks 48th with a 25.7 ft/sec sprint speed, nearly two miles per hour slower than league average (tied with Chase Headley, Nolan Arenado, and Todd Frazier). As a shortstop, he would rank next to last in MLB, ahead of only Gregorio Petit of the Minnesota Twins.
From an offensive standpoint, the move makes a lot of sense. Villanueva can square up against left-handed pitchers all season long, while Myers, Hunter Renfroe, Margot, and another outfielder with a big bat can all be included in the starting lineup. Just prepare for an adventure on the defensive side of things, should this move stick.