MIAMI—With just under two weeks before MLB’s 2020 Opening Day, Marlins manager Don Mattingly has offered up very little to the media in terms of roster spots, lineups, and rotations. The only thing he has said with complete certainty is that newly acquired Jonathan Villar will be the Marlins’ leadoff hitter.
Last season, he slashed .274/.339/.453 with 24 home runs, 73 RBIs, 111 runs scored and 40 stolen bases with the Orioles. Had he played for the Marlins, he would have led the team in home runs, runs, and stolen bases.
“When we traded for Jonathan, that’s one of those moves where you’re like, ‘Yes!’” Mattingly said through a conference call last week. “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.”
The Marlins haven’t had a consistent leadoff hitter since Dee Gordon in 2017. The Marlins cycled through Miguel Rojas, Jon Berti, and an aging Curtis Granderson in the leadoff role in 2019. Although Berti had a solid .348 on-base percentage, Villar just brings the “pop” at the top of the order that the Fish have been missing.
Villar, who came via trade with the Orioles this past offseason, has already exhibited these tools in the first three simulated games the Marlins have played during Summer Camp. In an intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday, he got a base hit in every at-bat, including a no-doubt home run to the second level in right field, and a double into the left field power alley. On top of his ability to drive the ball to all parts of the park, he’s also flashed his leather in the infield and shown his quickness on the basepaths, swiping a couple of bags already.
Jonathan Villar just sent a ball to the 2nd porch in RF pic.twitter.com/xV4LeXd9RE— Alex Krutchik (@AlexKrutchikFS) July 12, 2020
The other tool he brings to the Marlins is his versatility in the field. Since Derek Jeter took over as CEO before the 2018 season, the club has had a focus on athletic defenders that can play multiple positions. Villar fits that description perfectly. Although he has played shortstop during Miami’s simulated games, Mattingly said that he can also play second base and center field, as well as designated hitter from time to time.
Villar has spent most of his career at shortstop and second base, playing 375 and 304 games, respectively. Despite his inexperience in the center (8 career games), he took the time during the coronavirus lockdown to acclimate himself in each position in the field.
“When I went to the Dominican (Republic), I took a ground ball at every position, because we didn’t know what was going on,” Villar said during a recent conference call. “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.”
On top of the priorities the Marlins have already placed on roster versatility, the ever-changing nature of the coronavirus places an even bigger emphasis on the ability to plug-and-play people. As we have already seen across other sports across the country, players are still testing positive for COVID-19, even in their quarantine bubbles. The idea of a Marlins player missing significant time due to a positive test is not far-fetched at all, unfortunately. However, players like Villar will be ready to step into any role when the circumstances demand it.