SAN DIEGO -- Christian Villanueva spent nine years working his way through three different Minor League systems. In 2016, while with the Cubs' organization, he broke his leg and missed an entire season. Once a highly touted prospect, Villanueva's professional career was teetering on the brink.• VOTE: 2018 Camping World
SAN DIEGO -- Christian Villanueva spent nine years working his way through three different Minor League systems. In 2016, while with the Cubs' organization, he broke his leg and missed an entire season. Once a highly touted prospect, Villanueva's professional career was teetering on the brink.
• VOTE: 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot
Even the lighthearted Villanueva -- who dreamed of playing in the big leagues while growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico -- couldn't have envisioned this.
Two months into Villanueva's rookie season, he's been a revelation. The 26-year-old slugger won the National League Rookie of the Month Award in April. Through May, his 15 homers are second only to Bryce Harper in the NL. They're the most by an NL rookie since Jose Pujols in 2001. His hot start earned him a hero's welcome when he arrived in Monterrey, Mexico, for a series against the Dodgers last month.
"I try to get him to pause and remember how special this first half of the season has been," said Padres manager Andy Green. "I think sometimes he's pressing so hard to be great every single day that he loses sight of what he has going right now."
What he has going is a season that's approaching All-Star caliber. Voting for the 2018 Midsummer Classic begins Friday, and Villanueva finds himself listed among a handful of superstar third basemen in the NL. He's held his own.
"I think back to my injury, being in a bed, going through that rehab and working as hard as I can to get back," Villanueva said. "Knowing that I'm on that list is really amazing. It's a point of pride. It's definitely one of my goals to make it and play in an All-Star Game."
It's a longshot that Villanueva is voted onto the National League team over the likes of Kristopher Bryant and Nolan Arenado. But he's got an outside chance of making his way to D.C. as an NL bench player. And what a story that would be.
It was Bryant who blocked Villanueva's path to the big leagues in Chicago. The Padres took a chance on Villanueva during the 2016-17 offseason. He struggled to get back to full strength following the leg injury. But when he did, there was no stopping him. He received a callup last September, and he's homered in 19 of his 214 plate appearances -- an 8.9 percent clip -- going into Friday's game.
"I didn't expect so much success," Villanueva said. "I've always envisioned playing in the big leagues for a long time. But I wasn't expecting such a nice start so quickly."
With his two homers on Saturday in Los Angeles, Villanueva set a record for most home runs by a Mexico-born rookie, surpassing Geronimo Gil's record from 2002.
His first thought went to his 1-year-old son, Christian Jr.
"I'm going to have things to tell him, stories to tell," Villanueva said. "So it's definitely special."
Come mid-July, perhaps Villanueva will have another story to tell Christian Jr. one day.
Fans may cast votes for starters at MLB.com and all 30 club sites -- on computers, tablets and smartphones -- exclusively online using the 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot until Thursday, July 5, at 11:59 p.m. ET. On smartphones and tablets, fans can also access the ballot via the MLB At Bat and MLB Ballpark mobile apps. Each fan can vote up to five times in any 24-hour period, for a maximum of 35 ballots cast.
Following the announcement of this year's All-Star starters, reserves and pitchers, fans should return to MLB.com and cast their 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Final Vote for the final player on each league's roster. Then on Tuesday, July 17, while watching the 2018 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, fans may visit MLB.com to submit their choices for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet with the 2018 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote.
The 89th Midsummer Classic, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., will be televised nationally by FOX Sports; in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS; and worldwide by partners in more than 180 countries. FOX Deportes will provide Spanish-language coverage in the United States, while ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network, MLB.com and SiriusXM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information about MLB All-Star Week and to purchase tickets, please visit AllStarGame.com and follow @MLB and @AllStarGame on social media.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.