The Miami Marlins have a lot of time on their hands to consider the state of the 2020 team prior to taking the field.
In 2019, the Miami Marlins fought hard to win 57 games against 105 losses, which was far-and-away the worst mark in the National League and the third worst record in all of baseball. The one player of the “new guard” to arrive in Miami who may have the most immediate impact is Jonathan Villar.
Villar is a six-foot-one, 215 lb. infielder born on May 2nd, 1991. A native of La Vega, DR, he was first discovered in 2008 by the Philadelphia Phillies, and signed through free agency.
It was with Houston that Villar made his major league debut in 2013. In 198 games over parts of three seasons, Villar stole 42 bases in 56 tries while hitting .236/.300/.353 with 10 home runs and 46 RBI. His 1.3 career WAR to that point didn’t hint at what he would accomplish in 2016, and later in 2019. After the close of the 2015 campaign, the Astros traded Villar to the Milwaukee Brewers for Cy Sneed.
The 2016 campaign would see Villar lead the major leagues with 62 stolen bases and with 80 stolen base attempts. He improved his slash line significantly, to a mark of .285/.369/.457 with 19 home runs and 63 RBI in 156 games while playing for the Brewers, and finished the season with a 3.2 WAR.
After a sub-par 2017, Villar seemed to be rebounding nicely with a strong first-half of 2018, then at the trade deadline, the Brewers sent him with Jean Carmona and Luis Ortiz to the Baltimore Orioles for Jonathan Schoop.
2019 would see Villar play in all 162 games for the Orioles, one of five players in the majors to appear in every game and the first Baltimore player since Schoop did it in 2016. The increased workload didn’t have any sort of negative effect on Villar’s bottom line. In fact, Villar thrived on being counted on every day. He slashed out a .274/.339/.453 line with a career-best 24 home runs and 40 stolen bases in 49 attempts.
Villar totaled 3.9 WAR for the Orioles last year, one of only two teams to finish with a worse record than did the Miami Marlins. That’s why it was a little confusing to see Baltimore part ways with Villar for Marlins minor league pitching prospect Easton Lucas. Lucas has a pretty decent ceiling, but I think betting on him to someday be worth 4.0 WAR is a little foolish on the part of the Orioles. I mean, I’m glad I’m a Marlins fan — I’ll take it, I just don’t get it…
A dozen spring training games would see Villar yield six hits in 28 at bats, including two round-trippers, five RBI, four stolen bases in as many attempts, and six runs scored. More importantly, he got to spend 43 innings in center field, which is where Don Mattingly and the headshop forsee Villar making his defensive contributions to the Marlins going forward.
The early returns on the Villar CF experiment are encouraging, as Villar’s athleticism seems to more than make up for his lack of experience in the outfield. Coincidentally, his major league regular season outfield experience also equals 43 innings.
To this point in his career, Villar has spent less than one percent of his time in the field patrolling the outfield. He’s started 348 games at shortstop, 277 at second base, and 48 at third base, with fielding percentages of .954, .974, and .877, respectively. (Yeah, I’d leave that “Villar at third” idea right there in the cupboard).
Villar’s best “natural” fit would seem to be at second base, where he’s clearly superior to Miami’s currently anointed 2B depth-chart king, Isan Diaz. While the Marlins seem to be stacked at the corner outfield spots, they don’t have a lot of faith in their choices in center field. Villar will start 2020 in center, freeing up the second base job for the aforementioned Diaz.