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Padres’ Christian Villanueva designated for assignment, to be sold to Japan

Rookies who hit 20 homers clearly aren’t as valuable as they used to be.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres Photo by Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres have designated third baseman Christian Villanueva for assignment and will sell his contract to Japan’s Yomiuri Giants, as MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin reported Tuesday:

The 27-year-old Villanueva, who was once a highly-regarded prospect in the Rangers and Cubs organizations, was a bit of a late bloomer as a major-leaguer thanks to injuries, inconsistency as he moved up the minor-league ladder, and the fact that he was blocked by Kris Bryant during his later years in the Cubs organization. He got off to a torrid start after getting a big-league opportunity with the Padres, though, posting a .344/.344/.750 slash line with four homers over 32 plate appearances as a September call-up in 2017. He carried that success into the beginning of the 2018 season, hitting .321/.411/.692 with eight homers in April, but he went cold for the next three months before catching fire again in August and posting a .931 OPS over 52 plate appearances before suffering a season-ending fractured finger. He finished the season with a solid .236/.299/.450 slash line and 20 homers in 384 plate appearances while playing all four infield positions and posting a 1.8 bWAR; he was obviously a lefty-mashing specialist, hitting .336/.392/.726 against southpaws compared to .189/.255/.319 against righties, but in today’s platoon-centric game, there’s obviously a place for hitters like that.

One would think that with Villanueva’s power and versatility, he’ll probably get another shot to play in the majors at some point, though there have been more than a few former major-leaguers who have had long, lucrative careers in Japan. In the meantime, the Padres will likely give Wil Myers another look at third base, though Lin reported Tuesday that San Diego would look to add an established third baseman this offseason.