The Houston Astros were an absolute mess in 2013, finishing with a 51-111 record. Their 51 wins were 11 fewer than the next worst team, the Miami Marlins with 62 wins. Don’t worry Astros fans, there were a few bright spots. Some young players performed well, and the Astros do have a top-three GM in baseball, Jeff Luhnow.
One of the players that Astros fans can look forward to watching for the next few seasons is 22-year old shortstop Jonathan Villar. Villar was signed as an amateur free agent in 2008 by the Philadelphia Phillies. Two years later, the Astros acquired Villar from the Phillies in the Roy Oswalt trade. Along with Villar, the Phillies also sent outfielder Anthony Gose and pitcher J.A. Happ. Neither Gose nor Happ are still members of the Astros organization.
Villar is a shortstop with a ton of tools. Defensively, he has the athleticism and range to get to plenty of balls that most shortstops couldn’t get to. He has excellent speed on the bases, stealing 193 bags while being caught 52 times in six minor league seasons.
On offense, Villar is far from a power hitter; he is mostly going to rack up extra-base hits with doubles and triples. Playing in Minute Maid Park will probably help his triples numbers considering how many weird angles there are in that venue.
In his six minor league seasons including his time with the Phillies, Villar hit for a .260/.333/.387 triple-slash line. In 2,310 plate appearances, he struck out 583 times and walked 206 times. His power came mostly in doubles as he he hit 84 doubles with 39 home runs and 27 triples.
The Astros promoted Villar in late July of 2013 to replace Ronny Cedeno as the starting shortstop. He ended up getting 58 games worth of MLB experience before the season wrapped up. In 241 plate appearances, Villar hit .243/.321/.319 with a mere 80 wRC+.
For every plus, there was a minus for Villar in his rookie season. He walked in 10 percent of his trips to the plate, but he also struck out 29.5 percent of the time. His .243 batting average would have likely been much worse if not for his unsustainable .362 BABIP. He was very good on the bases, but he was below average defensively.
No matter what happens with Villar, he likely isn’t the long-term solution at shortstop for the Astros. Once top prospect Carlos Correa is ready, Villar will likely be traded or moved to another position, depending on how he develops in the coming seasons. Villar will probably never hit 20-plus home runs or steal 75 bases, but he will end up hitting double-digit homers every season with 35-40 steals annually while also providing plus-defense at shortstop eventually.