We previously covered pitchers Jimmy Nelson and Michael Blazek in our Next Level series where we look at some of the Brewers young talent who have exhausted their “prospect status” but look to be key contributors at the big league level this season.
Today we continue by profiling utility infielder Jonathan Villar, who was acquired by Milwaukee earlier this offseason from the Houston Astros in exchange for minor league pitching prospect Cy Sneed.
Signed by the Philadelphia Phillies out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, Villar was traded to the Astros in July of 2010 along with outfielder Anthony Gose and pitcher J.A. Happ in exchange for veteran pitcher Roy Oswalt.
Rated as one of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects entering the 2011 season, Villar split the year between High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi and returned to Double-A in 2012.
He opened 2013 with the Astros Triple-A affiliate, hitting .277 with sixteen doubles, eight triples and eight home runs in 91 games, before getting the call to the big leagues in July. He made his Major League debut with Houston on July 22, 2013 and appeared in 58 games for the Astros that season, hitting .243 and scoring 26 runs.
He bounced back-and-forth between Triple-A and the majors in 2014, seeing action in 87 games for Houston, and did the same last season, appearing in 53 contests for the Astros and hitting .284.
Over the course of three seasons with the Astros, from 2013-2015, Villar hit a combined .236 with ten home runs and 46 runs batted in. The 24-year-old also added 42 stolen bases and scored 75 runs in 198 games.
Defensively, Villar can play any position on the infield with the majority of his big league action having come at shortstop with the Astros. He also has seen limited playing time in the outfield, playing both left and centerfield.
Villar adds to his versatility by hitting from both the left and right sides of the plate. That versatility will be key as he joins the Brewers in 2016 with the potential to see plenty of playing time at a variety of positions on a very young Milwaukee ballclub.
In the mix to grab the starting third base job, Villar could also spell Scooter Gennett at second base against lefties and could even be a stopgap at shortstop if the Brewers decide to deal incumbent Jean Segura before they feel top prospect Orlando Arcia is ready.
At worst, Villar should be a valuable piece of Milwaukee’s bench in 2016, a role he has thrived in, batting .385 in limited duty as a pinch-hitter in his three big league seasons with Houston.
Expect Villar to get a good long look this spring as the Brewers try to fill a variety of holes in their lineup. He doesn’t become arbitration eligible until 2018 and isn’t a free agent until 2021 so he could play various roles for Milwaukee over the next few seasons as they look to rebuild their franchise.