Christian Villanueva, 3B
Age 23 (6/19/1991)
2013 Team: Tennessee Smokies, Southern League (AA)
Northsiders Report 2014 Ranking—# 11
How acquired—Traded along with Kyle Hendricks from Texas for Ryan Dempster on July 31, 2012
Prior to Cubs
Villanueva was playing at the world junior championships in Canada when he learned the Rangers had signed him as a free agent on Aug. 17, 2008, after beginning his career in the Mexican League minors. He made his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2009, playing eight games (5-24). An Arizona Rookie League All-star his first year stateside, hitting .314/.365/.431 in 51 games. The Guadalajara, Mexico native excelled in his first full season for Hickory with 17 homers, 84 RBI and 32 stolen bases to go along with slash line of .278/.338/.465 and earned South Atlantic League mid-season and post-season all-star honors. Villanueva was on his way to a solid season at High A Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League when he was traded to the Cubs. He hit .285/.356/.421 in 100 games with 10 HR and 59 RBI.
He made a great impression in his Daytona Cubs debut, blasting a pair of solo homers in his first two at-bats against Fort Myers two days after the trade. He played in 25 games for the D-Cubs, hitting .250/.337/.452 with four homers and nine RBI.
Ranked as one of the Cubs top prospects heading into the season, Villanueva lived up to the billing as he had one of the better seasons in the AA Southern League flashing a major-league ready glove and leading the league in total bases. His play earned the 23-year-old mid-season and post-season honors and was also named to the Topps AA All-Star team. He hit a career-high 19 homers and led the Southern League with 41 doubles, including a streak of six straight games with a two-bagger. Villanueva worked hard with hitting coach Desi Wilson during the season as he changed his approach as well as his stance. The hard work paid off both at the plate and on defense.
The Cubs have already said Villanueva will start the season at AAA Iowa with 2B Arismendy Alcantara and SS Javier Baez joining him in the infield. Villanueva's best tool is his defense and many think he has the glove and arm to play in the majors right now. Last year, his bat caught up to the rest of his game, reaching career highs in homers, doubles and total bases. He has good baseball instincts, which serve him well on the bases and is always a threat to swipe a base, although was just 5-12 last season. Cubs fans shouldn't forget about Villanueva when talking about the future at third, especially with his second half power surge at AA.