With the White Sox shipping out big name players for red-hot prospects left and right, it is easy for their current roster of players to get lost in the shuffle. This story should sound somewhat familiar to this article’s namesake – Jonathan Villar. Last year, Villar was forgone in many fantasy drafts for the player that was supposed to replace him – Orlando Arcia – except that time never came. Although there does not appear to be an obvious Orlando Arcia super-prospect behind him (at least not yet, but with Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier and Jose Quintana in-house that is TBD), Charlie Tilson is a name that few know, who is going to see a lot of playing time in Chicago, and as a result is the newest inhabitant of the Villar Village.
Last year, the White Sox acquired Tilson in the deal that sent Zach Duke to the St. Louis Cardinals. The White Sox immediately plugged him into the MLB lineup, but after just 2 PA, Tilson tore his hamstring and his season was over. Thus, there is almost no MLB sample on which to evaluate Tilson and zero hype surrounding his opportunity to play at the MLB level. However, Tilson did spend a significant amount of time at AA in 2015 and AAA in 2016. In 2015, Tilson hit .295 with a 7.7% BB rate and 12.1% K rate, while stealing 46 bases and popping 4 homers in 134 games and 594 PA. In case they did not, the 46 steals should immediately jump off the page at you – I even bolded it for you. Last year, in a 395 PA sample, Tilson had a similar year, batting .282 with a 8.4% BB rate and 12.9% K-rate. In a smaller sample, Tilson hit the same 4 homers, but only managed 15 SB.
Now, some might balk at the huge decrease in speed from 2015 to 2016 as he climbed through levels and faced better competition, but Tilson was still on pace for approximately 25 SB over a full season. Plus, Tilson suffered such a severe soft tissue injury in a seemingly abrupt manner, it is within the realm of reason that Tilson was dealing with a minor hamstring injury before the trade. He ran only once in the 16 games following the All-Star break, which might support that hypothesis, but that could just be small sample/confirmation bias noise. Regardless of whether the injury was pre-existing or not, with 70-grade speed and a history of successfully stealing bases in the minors, Tilson should approach 25-30 steals at the major league level given full-time at-bats, especially for a team that will give him the green light because they have nothing to lose. Again, see Villar last year. Bad teams let their speedsters run.
Last year’s injury is not the only reason why Tilson is likely to come at a discount. He is a prospect that lacks any sort of hype or love from the fantasy community because he is seen as lacking upside. Tilson has long been tabbed as a fourth outfielder type – a player capable of hitting for a plus average, who can run, but will provide very little power. Landing in Chicago, Tilson is in an ideal situation for his profile because the power can play up in a ballpark that posted a LH Park Factor of 116 in 2016 according Baseball Prospectus’s Park Factors. Thus, even though, he may lack power as a player, the ballpark could compensate for his shortcoming and place Tilson somewhere in the 7-10 homer range over the course of a full season. Although that is not a significant amount of homers, there is a major difference between a good (but not elite) speedster, who can hit a handful or more homers, and one, who provides no power at all.
Tilson will probably remain off radars as the White Sox continue to unload the talent surrounding him. If Abreu and Frazier are traded, then the lineup will be loaded with cheap veterans and unproven youngsters that will not instill a lot of confidence in fantasy owners. The uninspiring supporting cast – what I refer to as the “bad team discount” – will help Tilson’s value remain suppressed even in a speed-starved market.
This all says nothing of the advantages of being a leadoff hitter regardless of the offense behind him. Players that hit near the top of the lineup get a high volume of at-bats and if they stay healthy, a question for Tilson now, the day-to-day volume will eventually lead to a nice run total. The two lowest-scoring offenses in MLB were the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves. Odubel Herrera consistently hit at or near the top of the Phillies lineup and was able to score 87 runs. In 131 games, Ender Inciarte, the Braves lead-off man, was able to score 85 runs.
Inciarte is another undervalued source of fantasy production and a player that is a good comp for Tilson – light on power, good speed, solid average and a lead-off role on a bad offensive team. Inciarte’s track record will lead to him being more costly on draft day – I am not convinced these two players should be separated by all that much. Welcome to the Villar Village, Charlie Tilson!
Projection for Charlie Tilson: 150 GP, .282 BA, 7 HR, 32 SB, 88 R, 41 RBI.
Inhabitants of the Villar Village
1B/2B/SS/OF. Nick Franklin – TB
OF. Alex Dickerson – SD
OF. Charlie Tilson – CHW