The San Diego Padres third baseman finally made it to the major leagues, full-time, and had an up and down year before an injury prematurely ended his season.
After a nine-year minor league career with the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs, Christian Villanueva finally found a home on a major league roster with the San Diego Padres. He may have had his struggles and downfalls, but Villanueva ended the season as one of the top offensive performers on the 2018 San Diego roster.
Villanueva didn’t start out as the starting third baseman for Andy Green and the Padres and he didn’t end the season as the starting third baseman, either. The trade for Bryan Mitchell that left the Padres with Chase Headley meant Villanueva started the years as the backup, but quickly earned his way into a starting role, easing the team’s decision to release Headley.
By the end of the year, Wil Myers found himself as the starting third baseman with Villanueva platooning around the infield, before ultimately ending his season early with a fractured finger and a trip to the disabled list.
Villanueva appeared in 110 games in 2018, hitting .236 with a .299 on-base percentage and a .750 OPS. His 1.2 fWAR and 104 wRC+ ranked among the Padres team leaders, which helps explain a lot about the 2018 San Diego Padres offense.
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One thing that was never questioned was Villanueva’s power. He finished his rookie season with 20 home runs, setting a new record for Mexican-born rookies and falling just shy of Hunter Renfroe‘s franchise record for home runs by a Padres rookie. He also chipped in 15 doubles, 46 runs driven in, and three stolen bases.
The big issue with Villanueva was his left/right splits. Against LHP, Villy hit .336 with 14 home runs, a 1.118 OPS, and a 198 wRC+ (113 at-bats). On the flip side, he hit .189 with six home runs, a .574 OPS, and a 59 wRC+ against RHP, in more than double the at-bats.
As for his defense, Andy Green began to move Villanueva around the infield, hoping to begin the process of transforming the rookie into a utility player that could play all four infield positions. That still may be the case as the team enters spring training, pending any future free agent moves. The move would essentially guarantee that any time the Padres go up against a left-handed pitcher, Villanueva will find himself somewhere on the field and in the heart of the lineup.
You can’t expect the Padres to get too much in return for Villanueva, unless he is packaged with a a few prospects, but his defense improved as the season went along and he could be very valuable as a platoon option in 2019. He’s the type of player that deserves another look in 2019.