Examining David Villar's role with Giants' breakout players, roster moves

Examining Villar's reduced role due to Giants' breakout players originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- Under the current regime, the Giants seemingly have gone out of their way to avoid publicly talking about player roles or their upcoming plans, even with relatively simple things. Gabe Kapler is not the type of manager to name a player his leadoff hitter or his closer, and he waited about as long as possible to make the official call that Logan Webb would start on Opening Day this year.

Before Wednesday's game, Kapler said he wasn't ready to announce his rotation plans for the weekend, and afterward he offered only that Alex Cobb would be starting the first of four games in Arizona.

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It stood out, then, when everyone involved said third base belonged to David Villar at the start of the year. Farhan Zaidi hinted at it all offseason and stated at the start of camp that Villar was the "incumbent" and hopefully would run with the everyday job. After Wilmer Flores got the nod on Opening Day, Kapler said Villar still was the guy and would get most of the playing time. There was a lot of confidence in February and March that Villar could grab a steady role in the lineup.

A lot can change over a month in the big leagues, and that has been the case at the hot corner and with Villar. He hasn't played third base since April 27 and has just three starts and 13 at-bats, period, over the last 11 games.

Villar is batting just .149, but in speaking about the young infielder, Kapler pointed out that a lot of this has to do with two others who have broken out and been the lineup's most consistent threats. J.D. Davis has become the everyday third baseman and Thairo Estrada has second base locked up, possibly for years to come. Those are Villar's two main positions.

"Right now you have other guys that are getting priority with playing time," Kapler said. "J.D. because of J.D. Thairo because of Thairo."


Not much more needs to be said about the two other than that, but another wrinkle was added this week. Casey Schmitt is here and here to play, and it certainly didn't seem a coincidence that a strong defender on the left side of the infield also started playing second base for the first time last week, as Villar's slump deepened.

Asked last week about Schmitt learning second, Kapler said he still had a lot of faith in Villar. He doubled down on that twice on the homestand.

"It's only been 100 plate appearances for David. It's a really quick look, and given his track record of success at the minor league level and enough at the Major League level, you know he's a good hitter," Kapler said. "I haven't even for a moment paid attention to the traditional line stats. There's been enough hard-hit underneath that and enough balls the air -- which is what he has done well -- where you feel like eventually he's going to put up good numbers."

Villar won the job -- at least initially -- with a huge September, which was part of the reason the Giants were willing to let Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria walk in the offseason. But the sophomore season has been a struggle, with Villar posting a .564 OPS in 29 games and striking out in a third of his plate appearances.


The Giants have continued to work on tweaks behind the scenes, looking for ways for Villar to tap into more of his natural power, but it's been hard to implement them in games. Davis, in particular, has blocked the path to more playing time in recent weeks, and Kapler made that point to Villar in a recent meeting.

"What I shared with him is, 'We didn't expect J.D. to be playing All-Star caliber third base.' We knew that was in there, but J.D. has just kind of taken that job at third base and is an everyday guy for us at this point," Kapler said. "As a result, there's been less opportunity for David in the lineup."

Villar got a start on Tuesday and picked up a hit, but a day later he was back in a pinch-hit role, with Schmitt starting at short and Brett Wisely at second. The conversations will get more difficult when Brandon Crawford returns, which could happen as soon as Friday. Crawford ran sprints on Wednesday and said his strained calf felt good.

That puts the Giants in an odd spot with Villar, who already has dominated at the Triple-A level. His biggest problem in the big leagues has been hitting breaking balls -- he's batting .091 against them -- but the only way to improve against big league breaking balls is to see them.


Kapler said that when he was a player, he thought the quality of breaking stuff in the minors was so poor and inconsistent that he didn't even swing at those pitches until he got to two strikes. A lot has changed over the years and young pitchers are nastier than ever, but there's still a big jump in what you see between Triple-A and the big leagues.

Until the Giants can find additional opportunities for Villar to continue his development against big leaguers, Kapler wants him to focus on his work behind the scenes. He said he had a good conversation with Villar about "controlling what you can control," adding that the 26-year-old has a "good level of awareness about what's going to happen going forward."

One big reason why the Giants don't often announce decisions is because so much can change over the course of the day. They haven't been forced into a tough infield decision yet, and something else could alter the math before Crawford is ready to be activated.

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Part of what stood out about the spring proclamation was the fact that the Giants were taking an opposite approach with Joey Bart, but in talking about Villar's current role, Kapler compared it to what Bart has dealt with the past two years. The plan was for Villar to be the everyday third baseman, but like Bart early in the season, he is now in a spot where he needs to make more contact and do more damage to keep getting those opportunities. Kapler pointed out that most big leaguers are generally in that position.


"Things happen," he said. "Players play really well, there are some performance challenges along the way (with others). Guys get hurt, guys stay healthy. The landscape doesn't look the same on April 1 as it does even, like, on April 15."

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