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Prospect spotlight: Wilmer Difo

Dec 2, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

USA Today

Age on Opening Day 2016: 23

How acquired: Signed as international free agent in 2010

Position: Infielder

Prospect Rank: No. 6 in Nats’ org. (Baseball America)

2015 Level/Team: A-Potomac, AA-Harrisburg, MLB-Nationals

2015 Stats: (minors) 106 G, 464 PA, 434 AB, 61 R, 124 H, 28 2B, 6 3B, 5 HR, 53 RBI, 30 SB, 2 CS, 20 BB, 92 SO, .286 BA, .325 OBP, .412 SLG, .738 OPS, 7 HBP / (majors) 15 G, 11 PA, 11 AB, R, 2 H, 0 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB, 0 CS, 0 BB, 2 SO, .182 BA, .182 OBP, .182 SLG, .364 OPS, 0 HBP

2015 Analysis: After winning the 2014 South Atlantic League MVP award with the Hagerstown Suns, Wilmer Difo entered 2015 with a new status as one of the top prospects in the Nationals’ organization. Difo had emerged as a future MLB talent and helped add some much-needed middle infield depth to the Nats’ farm system.

Difo began the 2015 season with a minor promotion to High-A Potomac where he played only 19 games. There he continued to dominate the Single-A ranks with a .320 average, three homers, 14 RBI and four steals in a very brief stint. That earned him a quick bump to Double-A Harrisburg, where he would play only 14 games before getting another promotion, this time to the majors.

Difo was called up on May 19 when the Nats needed a position player to take Jayson Werth’s spot on the roster. Werth was sent to the disabled list after taking a pitch off his left hand.

Difo didn’t see much action in his first stint in the big leagues, but he did get a hit in his first MLB at-bat on the same day he was called up. That was one of only two hits Difo landed in 11 MLB plate appearances.

Difo spent most of June, July and August in Double-A before rejoining the Nationals for the rest of the season as a September call-up. He was best in the month of August when he stayed put in Double-A, holding a .325 average with 18 RBI, 16 runs and nine steals in 26 games.

2016 Outlook: Difo didn’t put up the same numbers in 2015 that he did the year before, but he was moved around a lot from level to level. Despite his dip in numbers overall, Difo remains one of the best prospects in the Nats’ organization and one who plays a position convenient for his chances of sticking in the big leagues. Difo is a solid defensive player at both shortstop and second base, which gives the Nats incentive to keep him around in 2016.

As of now, the Nationals’ infield is a crowded bunch in competition for starting positions, but Difo figures to have a good chance of cracking the Opening Day roster on their bench. He is versatile on defense and provides extra value as a switch-hitter.

Difo will next need to demonstrate that his high batting average in 2014 – and for parts of 2015 – can carry over to the major league level. If Difo can get on base in the big leagues, his plus-speed (79 combined steals in 2014-15) could be a huge asset. Difo also has some power potential, having clubbed 14 homers in 136 games in 2014.

A strong offseason could set Difo up to challenge for the starting shortstop role in spring training, but the most likely path to him making the 25-man roster is on the bench behind either Trea Turner or Danny Espinosa at shortstop and either Yunel Escobar or Anthony Rendon at second base.

  1. ehay2k - Dec 2, 2015 at 7:25 AM

    Watching him last year, I kept thinking he needed to fill out a bit. He didn’t seem to have the arm strength yet for shortstop either. Did anyone here see him enough in the minors to detect any holes in his swing? (I’m doubt that he got enough MLB ABs to determine that.)

    So, he seems very much to be a work in progress, as is Turner. Makes me wonder if we really can deal Escobar this year, which would bring us a pretty good return. I hate to give up .300 hitter, but I also don’t want another Guzman on the team.

    • jfmii - Dec 2, 2015 at 8:45 AM

      What does “another Guzman” mean?

      • ehay2k - Dec 2, 2015 at 11:44 AM

        Escobar reminds me in some ways od Christian Guzman, a former Nat. Guzman, after his LASIK surgery, could hit a BB in the dark, and batted over .300;for a long stretch. But in the field, he was a liability that may have outweighed his bat. He also hit into quite a few DPs, if I recall correctly. But we got a good deal when we traded him!

  2. therealjohnc - Dec 2, 2015 at 9:05 AM

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Nationals brought in a utility infielder type so they have the option of allowing both Turner and Difo to play every day – either in AAA together or with Turner in AAA and Difo in AA to allow them both to start at shortstop. If a starting spot opens up due to trade, injury or ineffectiveness, then you could bring up whichever seems more ready (probably, but not definitely, Turner) and plug him into a starting spot.

    At this stage of their development riding the pine isn’t necessarily the best for either long term or short term results.

  3. jfmii - Dec 2, 2015 at 9:16 AM

    My untrained eye and equally useless crystal ball sees Turner as a successful major league 2nd basemen, and Difo as a valuable switch-hitting utility infielder

  4. jd - Dec 2, 2015 at 9:42 AM

    I think Turner is ready to step in full time now with the only thing holding him back being service time considerations. Difo id probably a year away and the jury is still out if he is a full time infielder or a utility one.

    I am pretty sure that Turner is ticketed for SS unless he shows to be below average at that position.

    • infideljack - Dec 2, 2015 at 11:54 AM

      More like Espinosa at SS with Turner at 2nd.

      • therealjohnc - Dec 2, 2015 at 12:23 PM

        Don’t be surprised if it ends up with Turner at SS, Escobar at 2b and Espinosa as a utility bench player. Even if Escobar is moved, it’s quite likely that the middle infield is Turner at SS and Espinosa at 2b.

      • nattyboh1 - Dec 2, 2015 at 12:38 PM

        Haven’t seen a ton of Turner, but Espinosa’s arm has to be better. If those two are our middle IF, I would expect Espy to play SS. I would indeed be very surprised if it’s Turner at SS and Espy at 2nd.

      • therealjohnc - Dec 2, 2015 at 2:25 PM

        Except for a couple of things:

        (1) Even if you assume that Espinosa is a better SS than Turner, the better overall defensive middle infield might well be Turner at SS and Espinosa at 2b; Espinosa has already proven his chops at 2b while Turner has very limited experience. In other words, [2b Espinosa > 2b Turner] > [SS Espinosa > SS Turner]; and

        (2) If the team sees Turner as a serious candidate for SS for the foreseeable future, the best way to see whether he can hack it over a season is to have him play the position.

    • jd - Dec 2, 2015 at 12:45 PM

      nattyboy,

      In the end the question is whether or not Espinosa’s bat plays in the big leagues. Remember that Rizzo acquired Cabrerra because he didn’t think Espi should play every day and then he acquired Escobar for the same reason. For much of last year Espi did a great job filling in for the injured Rendon but towards the end of the year he looked a lot like the old Espi at the plate.

      • nattyboh1 - Dec 2, 2015 at 2:12 PM

        Agreed JD, Espi had a batting renaissance of sorts early in the year but the warning signs are still there.

        I was specifically responding to a post from therealjohn that said Turner at SS and Espi at 2nd is still quite likely. This would be surprising to me, if they decide to go with Espi as a starter, I would assume that’s at SS.

  5. Doc - Dec 2, 2015 at 10:42 AM

    Maybe it will work for him in the Bigs, but Difo’s batting stance seems far too open. He needs to be around Schu for some guidance.

  6. langleyclub - Dec 2, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    Difo can hit. His bat will translate on the MLB level. He also has the range to play SS; not as sure about his arm.

  7. alexva6 - Dec 2, 2015 at 11:35 AM

    there is no reason for him to be on the 25 man roster as a bench player. it seems like a year at AAA is in order.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 2, 2015 at 1:09 PM

      +1

  8. unkyd59 - Dec 2, 2015 at 1:41 PM

    I cannot imagine that Yunel won’t be traded. After his year at the plate, his value has never been higher…SO many ground balls last year, his babip karma is not good, though… And his defense is the least of all the available options. Not using Tony at 3b is just a waste of gold glove talent out of position. Espy, TT and Difo, with a decent utility-type guy will be just fine…

    • therealjohnc - Dec 2, 2015 at 2:28 PM

      Possible problem: if you and I and everyone else who posts on NI can see that Escobar is a serious regression candidate with the bat and a liability with the glove … isn’t it likely that professional major league scouts and general managers will know that, too?

      Which would mean that trading Escobar might not get the return that everyone seems to assume.

      • unkyd59 - Dec 2, 2015 at 3:03 PM

        I don’t expect an elite return…. But moving him is addition by subtraction, for us, because of who we have ready to play now… Not the same for some other teams, who may be happy to have a decent utility IF….

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