David Villar's September audition has Gabe Kapler, Giants feeling hopeful

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Why Giants have big hopes for Villar's September audition originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

LOS ANGELES -- As he spent several minutes discussing David Villar on Monday afternoon, Giants manager Gabe Kapler found himself telling a story about digging for buried treasure.

He said the staff often uses an analogy when talking about the importance of giving guys an opportunity. You don't want to stop digging -- or give up on a guy -- right before your shovel is about to hit the treasure.

"You take one more swipe at it and you might hit the top of that thing and get ready to dig it out," Kapler said.

In this case, Villar is the treasure chest and that extra swipe is the month of September.

The Giants do not have a lot of high-upside prospects in Triple-A, but they've identified Villar as the young player most worthy of an extended audition this September given the team's place in the standings. After twice starting at third base over the weekend, he got a start at first base on Monday night at Dodger Stadium and had two hits, including a two-run homer.

Before the game, Kapler said the Giants "want to see as much of David as possible" this month.

"This is a play for tonight but it's also a play for the next several years," he said.

If Villar does dig in for years to come, he likely will have to get used to Monday's substitution pattern. The Giants had a four-run lead after Villar's homer and Kapler immediately found him in the dugout, informing him that they would be prioritizing defense behind Logan Webb. Villar was replaced by Mike Yastrzemski, which allowed Wilmer Flores to move from second to first, Thairo Estrada from left to second, and Bryce Johnson from right to left.

The move paid off almost immediately when Johnson teamed with Brandon Crawford for a relay that shut down a Dodgers rally. Estrada's infield defense proved to be crucial late in the game, too.

"He just came over and told me what the situation was," Villar said. "It's just part of the game. Whatever I can contribute to the team, whether it's four innings or five innings or nine, my job is to do what I did tonight and try to drive in runs and help us get a win."

It was a short night, but a productive one for a player who returned to the big leagues when rosters expanded to 28 on Thursday. Villar was an easy choice for the Giants. For the last two years, he has done everything needed in the upper minors.

Villar has never been a highly-touted prospect, but he burst on the scene in 2021 with 20 homers and an .881 OPS for Double-A Richmond. This year, he has 27 homers in just 84 Triple-A games and has posted a 1.022 OPS.

"David for two consecutive years has been the best offensive player at his level," Kapler said. "He has earned this chance and we want to make sure that we give it to him. This doesn't mean that he capitalizes on it, it just means we've made the determination that he's earned this chance."

The Giants have made it clear to their hitting prospects that they would like to see them dominate a level before moving them up. They have at times been slow with promotions, and even Villar had to wait longer than he might have in another organization after a scorching start to his Triple-A year.

Villar made his MLB debut on July 4 in Arizona and hung around for a month, with that first look showing that there's still plenty of work to do. He hit just .175 with one homer in those first 23 games, but the Giants want him to put that in his rearview mirror this September.

Monday's homer was particularly encouraging because it was a glimpse of what Kapler sees in batting practice every day. He said Villar gets nearly every ball in the air and has "great loft" to his swing, and the Giants want to see him drive the ball more often to center and right field. Villar's homer landed well into the bleachers in right.

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"Just to know that I was on time for the pitch and I put my best swing on it, it was a feeling I hadn't had in a while up here," Villar said. "It was just great to get those two swings off tonight."

The Giants will let Villar try to build on that, and a big month could alter some of their offseason plans. Both corner infielders, Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria, have hinted that retirement could be coming. Flores, who plays basically all the same positions as Villar, is a free agent, and while a reunion makes sense for both sides, it's not guaranteed. Villar should be able to fill a gap on the 2023 roster, and that work starts now.

"It means a lot, especially with how the first month (in the big leagues) went," Villar said. "I went back down to Triple-A and had some reflections and learned a lot about myself, offensively and defensively. I was waiting for that call back. It's great to be back here and I just need to show them that I'm capable of being up here and helping the team win."

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