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Like mother, like son for SS Villar

New Brewer's mom also played that position, urged move
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

PHOENIX -- Jonathan Villar is poised to be the Brewers' starting shortstop, and he has Mom to thank for it.

Villar said he played third base as a boy in the Dominican Republic, but he moved over to shortstop at the urging of his mother, Rosa, a former power-hitting softball player who now lives in Italy. She played shortstop, too.

PHOENIX -- Jonathan Villar is poised to be the Brewers' starting shortstop, and he has Mom to thank for it.

Villar said he played third base as a boy in the Dominican Republic, but he moved over to shortstop at the urging of his mother, Rosa, a former power-hitting softball player who now lives in Italy. She played shortstop, too.

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"She told me, 'I want to see you at shortstop,'" Villar said. "OK, I'll play shortstop. When I went to shortstop, I felt [more] comfortable than third base. I got to run everywhere, every day."

He'll be running again this season thanks to a pair of offseason trades by Brewers GM David Stearns. Stearns' second swap netted the switch-hitting, 24-year-old Villar from the Astros for Minor League pitcher Cy Sneed on Nov. 19, but it wasn't until Jan. 30 that shortstop opened up. That's the date Stearns sent incumbent Jean Segura to the D-backs as part of a five-player deal.

In the long term, parting with Segura cleared a path for top prospect Orlando Arcia, the Brewers' shortstop of the future. But Arcia will begin the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and in Villar, Stearns knew he had a player capable of bridging the gap.

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Stearns worked as the Astros' assistant GM from November 2012 through last September, when the Brewers hired him to replace Doug Melvin.

That's not the only familiar face. One of Villar's best friends is Brewers right fielder Domingo Santana, acquired in a Melvin trade last July. Like Villar, Santana began his professional career with the Phillies before a trade to the Astros (for Hunter Pence).

"[Villar] was the regular shortstop for the Astros at some point in 2013, when he was 22 years old," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said, "so at a really young age. He's got big league experience, certainly, at the position. It's his job, and it's a great opportunity for him to make the most of it."

Villar originally signed with the Phillies in 2008 and was traded to Houston in 2010 as part of the Roy Oswalt deal. Villar played 198 games for the Astros over the past three seasons, including 153 starts at shortstop, but found himself blocked beginning last season by budding superstar Carlos Correa's arrival in the big leagues.

With Correa entrenched at shortstop, Villar moved to a utility role. He played shortstop, third base, second base, left field and center field for the Astros last season.

"This guy is really, really good," Villar said of Correa. "This guy was coming to the big leagues, so it was like, 'OK, I can play other positions.'

"But my [natural] position is shortstop. When I went over to the Dominican for winter ball, I played there every day, worked hard."

Villar is not as flashy a defender as Arcia, but Counsell, a former shortstop himself, isn't necessarily looking for that.

"What I'm looking for from my defenders is: Make the plays within your range," Counsell said. "Be very consistent within your range."

Mom might have given the same advice. She has lived for years in Parma, Italy, and Villar visits sometimes.

"It's beautiful," he said. "Cold in winter, though. I don't like the cold."

Next stop, Milwaukee.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Milwaukee Brewers, Jonathan Villar