Villanueva hitting himself into 2018 mix

September 28th, 2017

SAN DIEGO -- The competition for jobs at second and third base in Padres camp next spring was already shaping up to be an intense one.

Add one more name to the mix.

After eight seasons in the Minors, has announced his presence emphatically, homering four times in his first nine games entering play Wednesday night. The 26-year-old third baseman is 9-for-23 (.391) with San Diego after posting a .296/.369/.528 slash line for Triple-A El Paso this season.

"I always dreamed about having a good debut," Villanueva said. "But I don't know if I imagined having this much success this quickly."

Of course, two solid weeks at the end of September are only worth so much. Villanueva is going to have to prove himself again at Spring Training. And he'll be facing tough competition, with , and already entrenched as Padres regulars.

"You can see the swing plays," said Padres manager Andy Green. "He's going to be fighting for a job in the big leagues next season, going into Spring Training. That much is already there. But I don't think you prove anything in September in such a short sample."

Even if Villanueva can't wrest a starting spot from Spangenberg or Solarte, it's easy to envision him earning a place on the Opening Day squad. He'd be a welcome right-handed power bat off the bench, and he could back up at first base, as well. (In that regard, it's worth remembering that the Padres could have a couple of extra bench spaces open if they don't carry three Rule 5 picks, as they did in 2017.)

"The goal was to get here," Villanueva said. "And now the new goal is to stay up here for a long time."

It's been quite the journey for Villanueva, who originally signed with the Rangers as a 17-year-old amateur free agent, when Padres general manager A.J. Preller was serving as international scouting director in Texas.

He made a name for himself in four seasons in the Texas organization before he was dealt to the Cubs, along with , for in 2012.

Less than a year later, the Cubs drafted , and Villanueva found himself without a clear path to the big leagues. He missed the entire 2016 campaign with a fractured right fibula, before he was granted free agency last offseason.

In December, Villanueva signed a Minor League deal with the Padres. He's making the most of it.

"After so many injuries, having gone through so much in the Minor Leagues, it's really gratifying in a lot of ways," he said.