Going into the 2017 MLB season, the San Diego Padres seemed to have a predicament on the left side of the infield. Without either a shortstop or third baseman of the future ready to play, the rebuilding Padres had to settle for what they had.
With the signing of Erick Aybar to a one-year deal in the offseason, it looked like the Padres were going to give the reins of the most important infield position to the veteran. That would not work out so well, as Aybar dealt with injuries throughout the year and was not productive when he was playing.
To kick off the year, the Padres went with fan favorite Yangervis Solarte at third. Don’t get me wrong, Solarte is one of the better players on the Padres’ roster, but at the age of thirty, he surely is not the franchise third baseman. Another player that often saw time at third base was Cory Spangenberg. While Spangenberg had a quality rookie season, his sophomore season was cut short with a few injuries, and the organization as a whole is unsure where Spangenberg will play. Not naturally a third baseman, Spangenberg saw a lot of time at second base and left field when the struggling Ryan Schimpf was sent down to the minor leagues and Carlos Asuaje emerged as a quality player. My point is this: the Padres do not have an everyday third baseman that is ready to make an impact at the big league level.
In September, the Padres called up 26-year-old Christian Villanueva from the El Paso Chihuahuas. This season with El Paso, Villanueva posted a .296/.369/.528 batting line with twenty home runs and 86 RBI. Villanueva is mostly known as a power hitter with an average glove that can make the routine plays consistently. His power did transition to the big league level, as in a short 12-game stint with the club, Villanueva blasted four home runs and drove in seven runs.
Now the real question comes to mind: Does Villanueva have what it takes to be the Padres leading third baseman next season? For starters, I would like to make it very clear that I firmly believe that when he is ready, Fernando Tatis Jr. will become the everyday third baseman for the Padres. He is simply too talented and is the team’s best bet at becoming an everyday star. That being said, the 18-year-old is still a few years away despite his immense talent. As for the rest of the Padres’ third basemen, I think Villanueva can be better than them all. Spangenberg is more of a utility player, and with Carlos Asuaje finally growing into himself and Luis Urias knocking on the door, it is likely that Spangenberg does not see a lot of playing time unless he is producing greatly. Yangervis Solarte is a prime candidate to be dealt at some point if the value is there as he is thirty years old and has a friendly contract. Padres manager Andy Green has experimented with Solarte, trying him at every infield position other than catcher and pitcher, and feels comfortable wherever Solarte plays.
Taking all of this into account, I think there is a real possibility that Villanueva can earn playing time this season. For starters, he is only 26 years old and has the potential to become something the Padres could really use, whether it be as an everyday starter or a rotational player. If Tatis Jr. does not pan out for some reason, or the team decides to keep him at shortstop, Villanueva could be an option.
Not only is he young, Villanueva is also very talented. Other than Wil Myers, and when he hits the ball, Hunter Renfroe, the Padres don’t have a ton of power spread across their lineup. Villanueva has the ability to drive runs in, and I envision him being a potential five or six hitter with the upside of potentially being a cleanup hitter. His glove may prove to also be an upgrade over the likes of Spangenberg, as we saw Spangenberg miss some plays that he should have made this past season.
Now, playing Villanueva from the beginning may be a stretch. He is still way more inexperienced than both Solarte and Spangenberg, and I think he is going to have to earn Andy Green’s trust by proving himself to be something before Green starts to throw him out there everyday. One thing that is for sure though: Villanueva has both the talent and potential to become the Padres’ everyday starter next season, and potentially, for years to come. Keep a watchful eye on this young man.