Prospect Notebook: A Familiar Feeling For Christian Villanueva

Christian Villanueva, 3b, Cubs: The more things change, the more they stay the same. One of the reasons the Rangers deemed Villanueva expendable a year ago was because he was behind Mike Olt on the depth chart, so they shipped him to the Cubs in the Ryan Dempster trade. Fast forward a year and Villanueva, playing for Double-A Tennessee, is once again stuck behind Olt, who’s at Triple-A Iowa after coming to the Cubs in last month’s Matt Garza deal. Both of the former Rangers farmhands homered on Monday, but we’ll put the spotlight on Villanueva this time.

Christian Villanueva

Christian Villanueva (Photo by Mike Janes)

Villanueva went 2-for-3 with the homer, a double and a walk on Monday, upping his season line to .263/.315/.462 after 114 games with the Smokies. He’s had his ups and downs, beginning with a rough April in which he hit just .205, but he’s held his own as a player who’s young (22) for the Southern League, where the median age for players on Opening Day rosters was 24.6. He’s been guilty of being too pull-happy at times, like many young players, but his line-drive power has helped him lead the SL in doubles (32) and extra-base hits (50). Whether he’ll hit the home runs expected of a big league third baseman remains a question, but does have 16 long balls this year, one off his career-high of 17 set in low Class A in 2010. We should note that Tennessee’s park does favor hitters more than most SL venues, as it’s generally a pitching-friendly league, and Villanueva’s homer yesterday did come at home. However, 10 of his 16 on the season have been hit on the road, and he’s slugging .507 in road games compared to .413 at home.

Michael Fulmer, rhp, Mets: Fulmer needed surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee during spring training, which cost him the first half of the season. He returned to the mound in late June with a couple rehab appearances in the Gulf Coast League and joined the high Class A St. Lucie rotation on July 7. Fulmer took a few starts to regain his feel, allowing eight earned runs in his first three outings (12 1/3 innings), but he’s since reeled off three straight quality starts. The 20-year-old picked up his second win on Monday, allowing only one run on two hits over six innings against Palm Beach. He struck out a season-high eight, but his command has remained an issue. Scouts have concerns about how much command he’ll ultimately have since he throws across his body, and he’s handed out 16 walks (including four yesterday) and four hit by pitches in 30 2/3 innings for St. Lucie.

Travis d’Arnaud, c, Mets: Speaking of Mets prospects coming back from injuries, d’Arnaud has gone 7-for-13 in four games since finally rejoining Triple-A Las Vegas late last week. He cranked his first home run since his return on Monday, part of a 3-for-5 night against New Orleans. The 24-year-old missed nearly four full months after a foul ball broke his left foot on April 17. The news could get even better in the next few days for d’Arnaud, who is expected to receive his first major league callup when Mets catcher John Buck leaves the team for the birth of his child, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal, whenever that time comes.

Max Fried, lhp, Padres: Monday’s outing wasn’t Fried’s best, though he did manage to pick up his sixth win for low Class A Fort Wayne, allowing four runs (three earned) on five hits in 5 1/3 innings against Dayton. However, the 19-year-old had reeled off a 17-inning shutout streak dating back to July 25 before having it snapped in the fifth inning Monday. Walks have been Fried’s undoing, and he issued a season-worst six on Monday. Nevertheless, his stuff and smooth delivery have made a fine impression for the seventh overall pick in last year’s draft. While his wildness can get him in trouble, he’s shown he can miss enough bats to extricate himself from jams. He leads all qualified Midwest League starters in SO/9 (8.14), having racked up 92 punchouts in 101 2/3 innings.

Mark Appel, rhp, Astros: Better days lie ahead for this year’s No. 1 overall pick. Making his sixth (and possibly final) start for low Class A Quad Cities on Monday, Appel was roughed up for seven earned runs on nine hits over 3 1/3 innings against Wisconsin. He struck out two and didn’t allow any walks. The seven earned runs allowed were more than Appel gave up in his first five starts at Quad Cities combined (five), while the Astros are considering moving him up another level before his next outing.

“I think I left my fastball up a bit, and they started sitting on it and reacting to my offspeed stuff,” Appel told Quad Cities Online. “I’m still working with ‘Berto’ (catcher Roberto Pena) on pitch selection and location. You always want to work on keeping the ball down in the zone—baseball is the same at any level. This is a reminder to keep working hard and keep the ball down.”