Marlins’ Jonathan Villar Among MLB’s Most Underrated Players

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BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 20: Jonathan Villar #2 of the Baltimore Orioles takes a swing during a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 20, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 20: Jonathan Villar #2 of the Baltimore Orioles takes a swing during a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 20, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /
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One of the Miami Marlins newest acquisitions, Jonathan Villar, was named among the league’s most underrated players by MLB.com on Sunday. The article compiled the All-Underrated Team for 2020, and Villar was the second baseman.

The Marlins acquired Jonathan Villar via trade in December. Miami sent left-handed pitching prospect Easton Lucas to the Orioles in exchange for Villar. Baltimore shipped off the versatile middle infielder in part because he was arbitration eligible and was expected to command upwards of $10 million.

Villar performed at a high rate for the Orioles over the last two seasons. In 2019, he slashed .273/.339/.453 over 162 games for Baltimore. He started 158 of them at either second base or at shortstop. Villar brings durability, defensive acumen and consistent offensive production. Villar posted an impressive 4.0 WAR in 2019.

The MLB.com article, written by Anthony Castrovince, gathered 11 players, one at each position, as well as a designated hitter, starting pitcher and a reliever. Castrovince’s criteria for assembling the team was as follows:

"The annual All-Underrated Team abides by a very specific set of rules. To be eligible for this team, a player must:1) Have at least two years of service time (we need a little time for some semblance of a “rating” to actually develop).2) Have NEVER been an All-Star.3) Have NEVER been a finalist (top three in the voting) for a BBWAA award (MVP, Cy Young or Rookie of the Year).4) Have NEVER won a Silver Slugger, Gold Glove or Reliever of the Year honor or — this is a new wrinkle this year — been named to an All-MLB squad.5) Have NEVER signed a contract worth $100 million or more."

Villar made the the All-Underrated Team as the second baseman.

While playing for Baltimore over the last two season, Villar appeared at second base 147 times. Since breaking into the big leagues with the Houston Astros in 2013, Villar has made 333 of his 779 appearances at second. The only position he’s appeared at more during his career is shortstop (385). Villar has made eight appearances in center field, an option for him with the Marlins.

Castrovince explained Villar’s presence on the All-Underrated Team.

"2B: Jonathan Villar, MarlinsWhen you have a 4-WAR season, as Jonathan Villar did for the Orioles in 2019, and get put on outright waivers anyway, you’re underrated! Of course, Baltimore was well within its right to make that move, because Villar’s price tag was escalating and, based on the batted-ball metrics, is not a safe bet for another season in which he notches 62 extra-base hits.But Villar is an elite baserunner, with 98 steals over the past three seasons and an 81.7% success rate that is the best in baseball among those with at least 50 steals in that span. He’s also durable, having played in all 162 games last year."

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Having a player of Villar’s caliber will certainly help Miami, considering the team was 29th in runs scored in 2019. The Marlins also posted the sixth-fewest stolen bases last season (55), a number Villar almost eclipsed on his own in 2019 (40).

An interesting part of the article is the conceit that Villar is a second baseman. In 2019, Villar started 85 times at second, and 73 times at shortstop. What will be intriguing to watch during spring training is how Marlins manager Don Mattingly deploys Villar.

The Marlins have Isan Diaz slotted for second base, and the highly-regarded Miguel Rojas is the team’s shortstop. Villar could see time at third base, where he’s made 54 appearances over his seven seasons. The 28-year-old switch-hitter could also be in the mix for center field, where the Marlins have an open competition unfolding this spring.

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