Iowa Cubs, Pacific Coast League, AAA; (64 G, .211/.283/.372, 6 HR, 26 RBI);
Tennessee Smokies, Southern League, AA (.248/.310/.385, 4 HR, 32 RBI)
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-for-24). An Arizona Rookie League All-Star his first year stateside, he batted .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 ’13 season, Villanueva lived up to the billing as he had one of the better seasons in the 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.
I was expecting big things from Villanueva last year and expected him to make his major league debut—that never happened. He only hit .195 his first month in AAA and after batting .255 in May, went 7-for-his-last-48 before being sent to Tennessee. Villanueva also had trouble making contact in the PCL with a career-high 25.8 K%. On June 18, Villanueva was on his way back to AA and got off to a good start at the plate, batting .292/.373/.477 over his first 17 games. He hit .230 over the final 45 games and finished with a slash of .248/.310/.385. For the second straight year, Villanueva led all Cub minor leaguers with 38 doubles.
If Villanueva wants to keep his 40-man roster spot, he’s going to need to prove his value in 2015 at Iowa. His glove and guaranteed depth at third should be enough keep him around this season but Kris Bryant and Addison Russell are waiting in the wings on the infield depth chart. While Villanueva isn’t going to hit for a high average, he does need to improve his contact rate and cut down on the strikeouts. With all the talented infielders currently in the Cubs system, its hard to see Villanueva ever cracking the starting lineup but he does provide a good backup in the minors in case of an injury and is also a possible trade candidate.