BY CARLOS TORRES BUJANDA
OBREGON, Mexico—The 2013 season was arguably the best of Christian Villanueva’s career.
At 22, Villanueva reached Double-A in his first full year in a new organization.
The Cubs acquired Villanueva from the Rangers as part of a trade for Ryan Dempster in July 2012, and he set career highs for doubles (41), home runs (19) and games played (133) for Double-A Tennessee. He was an all-star in the Southern League at midseason and in the postseason.
He led the league in doubles, extra-base hits (62) and total bases (230) while batting .261/.317/.469 overall in 490 at-bats.
He’s trying to build on that momentum in the Mexican Pacific League with the Obregon Yaquis, where he played a limited role in 2012 but has emerged as an everyday player this winter.
“I’m young and still learning,” Villanueva said. “I’ve been working with the hitting coach, Desi Wilson, and put in a lot of hard work. Now I see the results.”
Being traded can be difficult for any player, and the same was true for Villanueva, who originally signed with the Rangers in 2008. Getting notice of the trade last season was bittersweet, as he had grown close to his high Class A Myrtle Beach teammates.
“I was really excited about it, but I was kind of sad,” Villanueva said. “I was leaving my teammates that I had spent a lot of time with. That was a really good team, and I made good friends, and everything was going to be different.”
He reported first to high Class A Daytona, then reported to the Cubs’ spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz., last February, where he had the chance to play with big names on the field. “It was great to have the chance to play with Alfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro,” he said. “I talked with them, they was good on me, give me advice you know; it was a dream come true.”
Now Villanueva is trying to help Obregon right its poor start, as the defending Caribbean Series champion is just 12-20 and in last place in the MPL.
He’s done well thus far, hitting .256/.333/.449 with three home runs while serving primarily as a DH while veteran Agustin Murillo handles third base. But he’s just happy to already have earned more playing time that he got for the Yaquis last winter, when he didn’t make the postseason roster.
“Here I faced a different kind of pitchers, with more experience,” Villanueva said. “It is phenomenal to play here (with) the passion; (it) is more competitive, you have to play to win, OK? In the States, you’re looking to get the victory but it is more about the player development. Here you have to give results very quick or go home.”