2023 stats: 46 games, 140 PA, .145/.236/.315 (.550 OPS) 5 HR, 12 RBI, 45-11 K-BB, -0.2 fWAR
The expectation game is unfair and sometimes mean. The San Francisco Giants, by virtue of being in an unknowably long rebuild, have been quick to turn to any sub-30 year old position players who’ve shown a flash of talent and say, “Here! Take the job and run with it!”
Last year, David Villar was the recipient of the Good Luck, We’re All Counting On You medal when Farhan Zaidi considered him — along with Casey Schmitt and J.D. Davis — enough depth to overcome the loss of Evan Longoria. Villar had just hit .231/.331/.455 (.787 OPS) in 52 games for the Giants, with 9 home runs, 6 doubles, and a triple in 181 plate appearances; although, most of that success came in the final month of the season, where in September and the beginning of October (29 games), he slashed .269/.327/.570 (.897 OPS) with 8 home runs and 4 doubles.
Many teams have been tricked by those flashy Septembers, but you’d like to think that even in the 21st century, modern player development is able to discern a mirage from reality. Cynically, perhaps you do suspect the Giants knew those 29 games didn’t define Villar but they simply didn’t have better options to try out so they figured, what the heck? Honestly, it made sense to pair them with Villar’s Triple-A season in 2022 (.275/.404/.617 in 366 plate appearances with 27 home runs). He’d effectively maxed out the development expectations and so it was time to see if he could swim in the majors.
He... did not.
It was a bummer.
On April 3rd, 2023, Villar and the Giants played their 4th game of the season, and in a memorable 12-3 win, Villar hit 2 home runs including a grand slam.
He played just 42 more games and hit .127/.224/.264 (.488 OPS) with 3 home runs, 6 doubles, and a 4:1 strikeouts to walk ratio. His last game in the majors was July 24th — the culmination of 13 July plate appearances that resulted in an 0-for-11 with a walk, hit by pitch, and 7 strikeouts. It could also very well be his last appearance as a Giant.
Villar came into the season with the promise of being the cheaper and slightly better version of J.D. Davis — of course, nobody knew that J.D. Davis’ defense would improve from bad to average, rendering Villar’s average-plus contribution effectively moot. A 32% strikeout rate in the majors just isn’t going to cut it.
The team wanted him to work on his swing decisions, of course, and all those extra lessons seemed to get in his head. In June, SI.com wrote about how he’d learned “to love baseball again”:
“I feel happy again,” Villar said in a candid conversation with Giants Baseball Insider on Monday night. “It’s really important to come out here and enjoy what you do, and for the last three weeks, I’ve been in a really good head space. I’ve learned how to deal with failure, how to deal with adversity, and come out and be happy at the end of it.”
That June callup wound up being his best stretch of the season after those first four games. He was 5-for-17 with 3 doubles and a homer and 2 walks against 3 strikeouts. The Giants went 7-1 during that stretch. Then he sat from June 23rd through June 30th, when they finally sent him back to the River Cats. Was there something going on behind the scenes?
I shared the team’s enthusiasm for the kid heading into last offseason — it was rare to see a Giants prospect flash that kind of power — and was enthused by the video he and Sean Hjelle did last year to show off their friendship in the big leagues. Hope’s a good thing, even when that hope is directed at something as heartbreaking as baseball prospects.
There’s always a chance that the new coaching staff can smooth out the bumps in his game just by approaching the situation differently — if, indeed, there was a culture clash between Gabe Kapler and Villar. The Giants do not hold the rights to 30-home run power very often and as flawed as Villar’s game is (26.9% minor league K%), I still feel like there as some faint Adan Duvall vibes going on here and I’d like my favorite team to avoid that outcome, if possible. With a possible Matt Chapman signing incoming and the presence of Casey Schmitt, even with a trade of J.D. Davis, he seems like a longshot to stick around in 2023.
Here’s hoping David Villar keeps that joy for the game alive and lands on his feet in 2024.