Around this time last year, Johan Camargo had what was an unexpectedly solid season derailed in bizarre fashion after he somehow managed to trip and fall over the baseline before the game even began. Before the injury, he had played his way into the starting lineup at shortstop since Dansby Swanson was in the midst of an utter struggle in 2017. I figured that the solution would have been to just take Swanson’s struggles as they came since it was a rebuilding season and there was no guarantee that Camargo could keep up his level of play.
Well, we’re in 2018 now, the Braves are currently in a race to make the playoffs a year ahead of when they were “supposed to” and while Swanson is still struggling at the plate, his good defense has made him a vital cog of the machine. Meanwhile, Johan Camargo has moved to third base and has once again proven to be a pleasant surprise. There was a huge question mark at third base going into this season but as far as this year is concerned, there’s no longer any question: Camargo is the man at the hot corner.
There’s a pretty good chance that he could improve upon his 2017 production in terms of fWAR by an entire point — he’s already been worth 1.8 fWAR after 86 games, compared to the 1.2 fWAR that he was worth over 82 games last season. Again, when you consider that the expectations for production at third base for the Braves were rock bottom going into this season, Camargo’s efforts so far this season have been a blessing and it’s a pretty big reason why the Braves are as deep into the playoff hunt as they are right now.
The big reason for Camargo’s success so far this season has been his improved plate discipline. He got by last season with a 4.7 percent walk rate because his BABIP was at .364 to end the season. This year, his BABIP is at .284 but his walk rate has skyrocketed up to 10.8 percent. Granted, that walk rate number has been steadily going down since he reached his unsustainable peak of around 20 percent back in May, but it’s still been good enough to put him near the top of the OBP leaderboards when it comes to the lineup regulars.
So even though his batting average is down and his slugging percentage is basically the same as it was last season, his OBP is currently 10 points higher than it was last season and his wRC+ right now at 113, which is an improvement over his wRC+ of 102 from last season. Getting on base more often is more productive — who could have possibly seen that coming?
Plus, he’s boosted his power as well. He’s close to the magical .200 number for Isolated Power that separates the slap hitters from the big boys. He’s put some pop in his bat, which definitely wasn’t there during his time on the farm. That’s a pleasant development, for sure.
Camargo hit 12 homers in the minor leagues from the time he was signed to his big league debut (2012-2017)— Scott Coleman (@scottcoleman55) August 3, 2018
Just hit his 13th of the year off DeGrom in the 2nd inning
Not only has he improved at the plate, he’s been just as steady of a presence defensively at the hot corner as he was at the keystone as a shortstop. If you’re a believer in the current state of defensive metrics, then they’re actually grading him out as a perfectly fine defender at third base. He’s sitting on a DRS number of 4 and his UZR/150 is at 11.7. If that’s not your cup of tea and the eye test is more of your thing, then here’s an example of Camargo putting his cannon of an arm to good use.
I’ll take defense and an arm like that at third base every day of the week.
Of course, Johan Camargo probably doesn’t figure to be the long-term solution for the Braves at third base. Austin Riley is waiting in the wings and while a recent knee injury has put him on the shelf, it seems very likely that he’ll be getting the big call-up later this season and it’ll be a safe bet that hell be given every opportunity to earn the starting job at third base during spring training next season. Once again, it appears that Camargo and his steady production may have to step aside so that another player with more talent and potential can assume a spot that the organization has had planned for them for a while now.
The good news is that Johan Camargo is still a very versatile player. He was a perfectly capable shortstop who got bumped to third base and proved that he was a perfectly capable third baseman. The next step for him is likely the outfield and next season could bring about some changes in that department as well.
Still, if the Braves have to move him to the outfield, everything that Camargo has done through two seasons in the bigs points towards him adjusting his game in order to be good at whatever role he’s given. He admirably stepped in at shortstop and then he proved that he could be a good third baseman as well. So who’s to say that he couldn’t prove his value in that position as well?
Johan Camargo has shown us over these two seasons that he’s more than just a stopgap, even if he’s served in that role for the past couple of seasons. He’s proven that he’s a more-than-capable major league player and he’s going to be very important for the Braves this season and in the future as well.
Just like there’s a chance that highly-rated prospects can flame out, there’s a chance that lowly-rated prospects can breakout and become good major leaguers. For Johan Camargo, he definitely appears to fall into that latter category.