Defensive versatility Villar's best chance at spot

With better options at shortstop, Astros ask speedy infielder to learn new positions

Defensive versatility Villar's best chance at spot

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros' Jonathan Villar has put himself squarely in the mix to break camp with the team due to his performance so far on both sides of the ball. The Astros are giving Villar, a shortstop by trade, a look at third base and second base, as well as even center field.

If he's going to make the club in a backup role, Villar must prove he can do more than just play shortstop, where he started on Opening Day last year, with mixed results. The Astros signed Jed Lowrie to a three-year deal during the offseason and have top prospect Carlos Correa closing in on the Majors, so Villar's window to start at shortstop in Houston has essentially closed.

Still, Villar is a switch-hitter with tremendous speed on the bases, so he has value. He hit .209 last year but swiped 17 bases in 87 games. He also committed a whopping 18 errors at short.

"He's been terrific this camp," manager A.J. Hinch said. "I'm very proud of his attention to detail. I've been very proud of his openness to move around the field. It's not easy to do for a young player that's been primarily a shortstop his entire career. It's nice to see him hungry enough to be open to the instruction.

Villar's two-run triple

"I've played him as much as you could possibly play in Spring Training, and he's shown up every day with a good attitude and is asking questions with [third-base coach] Gary [Pettis] on baserunning stuff. He's really taken ownership of his career. I don't know if he wasn't doing that before. He can help us win by doing something every day."

With outfielders Colby Rasmus, Jake Marisnick, George Springer and Evan Gattis locks to make the team in addition to designated hitter Chris Carter and infielders Jose Altuve, Lowrie, Luis Valbuena and Marwin Gonzalez, the Astros seemingly have two rosters spots remaining for non-pitchers or catchers.

Robbie Grossman, Alex Presley and L.J. Hoes are battling for a backup outfield spot, and Villar, Matt Dominguez and Gregorio Petit are in the group battling to serve as a backup infielder. If Jon Singleton wins the starting first-base job, that would swallow a spot.

"This does come down to a decision on how the [roster] makeup is really going to go," Hinch said.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.