Do you remember when Angel Villalona was supposed to be the next Albert Pujols for the San Francisco Giants?
Yeah, it seems like a long time ago. That’s because it was more than six years ago when the Giants signed to a $2.1 million signing bonus as a 16-year-old, the largest contract the Giants had ever awarded to an international free agent at that time.
But finally, the 22-year-old first baseman has received his U.S. visa and will be joining the Giants in Scottsdale this spring.
It’s been a wild and weird tale to get to this point. Let’s recap.
He was signed on his 16th birthday as a corner infielder with huge power potential.
In 2007, his first season as a pro in the Giants system, he hit .278 with 5 HR and 38 RBI in 57 games at Rookie ball and short-season Class A Salem-Keizer.
He started 2008 as the No. 33-rated prospect by Baseball America as he was assigned to low Class A Augusta, where he hit .263 with 17 HR and 64 RBI in 123 games and played in the 2008 All-Star Futures Game.
He slipped to the No. 44-rated prospect to start 2009, when he moved to High Class A San Jose, where he hit .267 with 9 HR and 42 RBI in 74 games of an injury-filled season.
But his career took a big turn in September of 2009, when he was accused to shooting and killing a man in his native Dominican Republic in a bar altercation.
He was released from jail two months later when his family asked the judge to drop the charges after Villalona reportedly gave the dead man’s families $139,000. However, his U.S visa was revoked the next spring as his case remained unsettled.
Charges were eventually dropped, but the legal tussle and loss of visa cost Villalona two full seasons of baseball action. Despite that, the Giants added Villalona to their 40-man roster in November 2011 and invited him to spring training.
However, Villalona could not receive a new U.S. visa because his visa called for him to work as a professional athlete and Villalona had let himself go so much that the state department didn’t think he passed the eye test as an “elite athlete.”
So he stayed in the Dominican and played for the Giants Dominican League team in 2012, hitting .303 with 7 HR and 34 RBi in 44 games. He had a slash line of .303/.430/.497.
Now, he will be in a camp for the first time. And it’s impossible to know what the Giants will get from Villalona. But at 22, he’s no older than many of the college players the Giants drafted last June. The only difference is Villalona has received his most recent education from the School of Hard Knocks (and not the baseball variety).
The Giants will assess where he’s at as a player, but it’s likely he’ll start the season somewhere in Class A (Augusta or San Jose).