Christian Villanueva spent much of the decade as a promising prospect in first the Rangers' and then the Cubs' system. But as he approached the majors, Villanueva was first blocked by Kris Bryant and then, last year, hampered by a season-ending broken leg. The Padres signed Villanueva as a free agent, and he rewarded them by destroying opposing pitchers in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Villanueva significantly improved upon his first Triple-A stint back in 2015, as he showed improved plate discipline and power. He was explosive in 12 games for the big club, too, as he mashed four homers and a double over just 32 at-bats. The Padres have a few options at third base, including Cory Spangenberg and Chase Headley, but with a strong spring training, Villanueva could force his way into the Opening Day mix.
Villanueva got a rare start at shortstop Friday, going 0-for-3 in a spring loss to the Royals. AJ Cassavell of MLB.com reports that the reason for the corner infielder starting at short is to prepare for the scenario in which the Padres don't keep a backup shortstop on their Opening Day roster, which hints at Villanueva -- who has played some shortstop in the minors -- making the cut. The 26-year-old is batting .344 with three homers and 13 RBI this spring after posting similar numbers in his brief taste of the majors last season (.344 with four homers in 32 plate appearances). Add in the fact that Villanueva would have to pass through waivers if San Diego wanted to send him to the minors and his case for making the 25-man roster as a backup infielder becomes even stronger.
Villanueva sustained a cut on his left forearm and was scratched from Saturday's lineup against the Indians, Jeff Sanders of The San Diego Union-Tribune reports. It sounds like Villanueva suffered the injury in some sort of accident, but there was no additional information given by the team. He should be considered day-to-day and there should be an update on his status in the near future once more information is revealed.
According to manager Andy Green, Villanueva "is in good position to make [the] big-league club right now," Bill Center of MLB.com reports. Green added, ""He did really well for us last year. We're excited about what he brings. He's out of options right now. He's a guy who we want to do everything we possibly can to have here. The best thing about him for me is the way he took to the challenges this off season. He reported in really good shape. He worked incredibly hard. I think we're excited about where he is physically. Villanueva can flat swing the bat. He has a chance to play. How much he plays is dictated by how well he plays." Long story short, it seems like Villanueva's past performance has him on a path to San Diego. Despite this, his fantasy impact is likely limited given the acquisitions of Eric Hosmer and Chase Headley at the two positions Villanueva plays. This likely creates a roster crunch that could leave either Carlos Asuaje or Cory Spangenberg without a spot in the majors, although things will likely become sorted out later this spring.
Villanueva started at third and went 2-for-4 with a solo home run in Tuesday's loss to the Dodgers. The rookie has now homered an impressive four times through nine games. It is even more eye-opening when you consider Villanueva started just five of those nine contests. The 26-year-old slugged .528 in 108 games with Triple-A El Paso this season, so his power appears to be the real deal. Villanueva still hasn't officially earned an everyday role (he came off the bench Monday), but his power production makes his bat worthwhile in deeper formats even if he continues to reside on the short side of a platoon at the hot corner.
Villanueva went 1-for-4 with a two-run homer in Sunday's 8-4 loss to Colorado. Villanueva has flashed his power since joining the majors Sept. 18, homering three times in as many starts over the Padres' last five games. Sunday's long ball was notable, as it came in a start against a right-hander after the rookie appeared to be on the short side of a platoon with Cory Spangenberg at third base. Manager Andy Green shuffled the lineup -- as he has regularly since rosters expanded this month -- and was able to fit both players onto the lineup card. It would behoove the Padres to get a good look at Villanueva in the final week of the season, and fantasy owners in need of some pop should follow suit.