The Marlins have talked about Jonathan Villar as a potential center field option since the day they acquired him, and manager Don Mattingly confirmed to reporters today that the organization’s plan is to work the speedster out as a potential center fielder this spring (Twitter link via Jordan McPherson of the Miami Herald). Villar will still get some work in the infield, and the club has other options to fall back on if the results aren’t favorable.
Villar, 29, started six games in center field for the Brewers in 2017 and has only 39 career innings at the position. He’s traditionally been a middle infielder, but with Miguel Rojas penciled in at shortstop, well-regarded prospect Isan Diaz hopefully emerging at second base and Brian Anderson lined up at the hot corner, the Marlins will hope that Villar can make the transition to the outfield.
The situation, of course, is still fluid. Diaz has yet to establish himself as a Major Leaguer, and if he doesn’t show well this spring, a move back to second base could be sensible for Villar. The mix in right field also features several unproven players — Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Jesus Sanchez, Harold Ramirez — so the team could opt to move Anderson back to right field. In that case Villar could also yet be infield-bound. Alternatives in center include Brinson, Harrison, Sanchez, Jon Berti and Magneuris Sierra.
If Villar is able to make the move to center field, he could position himself quite favorably heading into free agency next winter. The switch-hitting Villar batted .270/.338/.438 with Baltimore in 216 games from 2018-19 before the tanking Orioles dumped in late November. Dating back to his first full season in 2016, Villar is a .268/.336/.423 hitter through 2344 plate appearances. He’s been able to provide league-average offense — and more, at times — in addition to excellent baseruning value. If he can add capable center field defense to his resume, that’d serve as a notable boost to his earning power.