CF, 2B, SS, DH: Villar 'here for every situation'
MIAMI -- The Marlins are keeping all options open when it comes to how to best use Jonathan Villar.
A middle infielder for most of his first seven big league seasons, Villar worked almost exclusively in center field in Spring Training.
But since MLB shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, circumstances have changed. The National League will be using the designated hitter in the 60-game 2020 season, which gives manager Don Mattingly another option to keep Villar in the lineup.
With the Marlins scheduled to open at the Phillies on July 24, the club intends to utilize Villar in a multitude of roles.
“We do see him a little more infield now,” Mattingly said. “With the DH, he can go a little bit back and forth -- with center field, second base, shortstop and DH -- to be able to keep him fresh.”
MLB.com breaks down the most likely scenarios for the 29-year-old.
It’s no secret that the Marlins have struggled in the leadoff spot since Dee Gordon was traded to the Mariners after the 2017 season.
Villar gives Miami a threat at the top of the order to not only run, but also hit the ball out of the park. With the Orioles last year, he slashed .274/.339/.453 with 24 home runs, 73 RBIs, 111 runs scored and 40 stolen bases.
“When we traded for Jonathan, that’s one of those moves where you’re like ... ‘Yes!’” Mattingly said. “He gives you a guy up top, which we needed. Switch-hitter. Power and average. He steals bags. A guy who is exciting up top.”
In their history, the Marlins have had a player steal 40 bases in a season just 14 times. As a team, they stole only 55 bases in 2019, with Jon Berti pacing the club with 17.
In his career, Villar has played center field in a total of eight games, most recently for the Brewers in 2017.
Marlins Park has also now replaced the natural grass in the outfield with B1K: Batting A Thousand by Shaw Sports Turf. Although the turf plays like real grass, it still is a synthetic surface. The club is using Summer Camp to help break in the turf, and players have been carefully acclimating to it.
“When I went to the Dominican [Republic during the shutdown], I took a ground ball at every position, because we didn’t know what was going on,” Villar said during a Zoom call Wednesday. “And I took a couple of flies. They saw that I can play center field. They know how I can move my feet. Now I feel normal.”
Along with Villar, the Marlins have other center-field options, including prospect Monte Harrison, Harold Ramirez, Berti and Lewis Brinson.
Garrett Cooper is a prime candidate to be the designated hitter, though he also plays right field and first base. And first baseman Jesús Aguilar could also get some games at DH.
Where does Villar fit into the mix?
To give his legs a break, Villar could be used regularly as the DH as well. The Marlins aren’t going to only use one player in the role.
One of the reasons Villar enjoyed a big 2019 is that he elevated the baseball more. According to Statcast, his average launch angle on balls put in play was 7.0 degrees, compared to 2.7 degrees with Milwaukee and Baltimore in ‘18. That year, Villar combined to hit .260 with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs.
“That’s fine,” Villar said of the DH. “It helps keep me in the lineup every day. I'll be here for the team. I'm here to help the team.”
When the Marlins acquired Villar in December, they spoke about playing him at third base. But then the club decided to go with Brian Anderson at the hot corner, instead of in right field.
Shortstop and second base are the positions at which Villar is most comfortable. In his career, he has played 385 games at short and 333 at second.
The question then is, what about shortstop Miguel Rojas and second baseman Isan Díaz?
Rojas is the unofficial captain of the club, and he is better defensively than Villar. Rojas also can play multiple positions. Díaz made his Majors debut last August and is being groomed as the second baseman of the future.
If the Marlins are committed to having Rojas and Díaz as their main double-play combination, then Villar may wind up in center field or at DH more often.
“I’ll be here for every situation,” Villar said.