Thursday, March 3, 2016

2015-16 BBM Winter Awards: Most Valuable Player

Although the Obregon Yaquis were unable to make it past the second round of the Mexican Pacific League playoffs this winter, losing in seven games to Mazatlan in their hard-fought semifinal series after losing the first two games at Estadio Tomas Gaytan (neither team would win a home game in that set), they did turn in the best overall regular season record in the circuit at 39-29, just missing the top postseason seed by a half-point to Mexicali.  That they were able to finish as well as they did despite mediocre batting and pitching means some players had to rise to the occasion when the occasion called for it, and few did it as well as Yaquis third baseman Christian Villanueva, our BBM Winter Award winner for Most Valuable Player.

The Guadalajara native finished in the LMP's Top Ten in ten different offensive categories in 2015-16, coming in sixth in the MexPac with a .322 average, tied for seventh in homers with 9, fifth in RBI's with 38, second to Mazatlan's Jeremias Pineda with 43 runs scored, second to Jose Amador with a .434 on-base percentage and third behind both Amadors in OPS at .914.  He hit better on the the road, knocking pitchers around for a .339 average with seven homers away from home while batting .302 at Tomas Gaytan.

More to the point, he was the linchpin of a lineup that had plenty of holes in it, thus seeing fewer hittable pitches as opposing pitchers were willing to nibble the corners with him and take their chances with the rest of the Yaquis order, yet still collecting timely hits throughout the campaign.  He spent 29 games at third base, fielding 82 of 87 chances cleanly for a .943 average and taking part in eight double plays from the hot corner, not Brooks Robinson territory but not the second coming of Hector Lopez either. In a season that saw no clear standout performances, Villanueva gets the slight nod for our LMP MVP.

The 24-year-old Villanueva was signed as a free agent by Texas in August 2008 and spent four years in the Rangers system before moving to the Cubs organization in mid-2012 in a trade that sent pitcher Ryan Dempster to Arlington.  Ranked eighth among prospects in the Cubbies minors heading into the 2013 season, Villanueva hit .261 with 19 homers and 72 RBI's at AA Tennessee that year but suffered a downturn in 2014 by batting a combined .230 with 10 roundtrippers between the Smokies and AAA Iowa.  He reversed his fortunes somewhat last summer by cracking 18 homers with 88 ribbies in Des Moines to go with a .259 average.  In all, Villanueva has averaged 16 homers and 75 RBI's over the past five minor league seasons and while he has zero chance of unseating Kris Bryant in Wrigley Field, he's on Chicago's 40-man roster and will challenge former Atlanta third sacker Tommy La Stella for the backup role.

This winter was his fourth in the MexPac, all with Obregon, and clearly his best.