The Giants banged out 13 runs on 16 hits in their win over the A’s on Friday. One of the more interesting of those 16 hits came in the ninth inning.
That’s when Angel Villalona belted a solo home run to center, capping the 13-9 win.
Villalona, as you’ll recall, is the former top prospect of the Giants, who spent two years out of baseball while he fought a murder charge in his native Dominican Republic. After working himself back into playing shape last summer in the Dominican Summer League, he earned his first spring training invite.
Villalona is 2 for 7 in three games so far this spring. He figures to be moved to minor-league camp soon, as he’s likely to open this season at Class A San Jose.
Friday was a big day for some younger players trying to get noticed and make the big-league club.
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 However, his U.S visa was revoked the next spring as his case remained unsettled.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).
The San Francisco Giants reassigned pitcher Santiago Casilla to minor-league camp, cutting the spring roster to 38 players. Manager Bruce Bochy said the remaining 38 players will travel north for the four exhibition games in the Bay Area.
That means catcher Buster Posey will be heading north. But whether he’ll still be with the Giants when they open the season in Houston remains to be seen.
The Giants are considering keeping Posey with the big club and giving him 3 or 4 starts a week at catcher or first base. But with the Giants having the first four Thursdays of the season off, the prevailing thought in the organization is to send Posey to Fresno to catch every day. But Posey could get called on at the first sign of trouble.
Another player not likely to be on the opening day roster is outfielder Fred Lewis. Lewis hasn’t played in about week with a sore left side, which may land Lewis on the disabled list.
“We haven’t determined that yet, but that’s a possibility,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday. “We hope that’s not the case.”
Or maybe they do. Putting Lewis on the DL would at the very least delay a tough decision for the Giants. If they can hide Lewis away on the DL, it would give them time to see how outfielders John Bowker and Eugenio Velez perform during the regular season. If one or both struggle, they could then activated Lewis from the DL and send either one to the minors. Both Bowker and Velez have minor-league options. Outfielders Nate Schierholtz and Andres Torres are out of options, as is Lewis.
APRIL 27 DATE FOR VILLALONA: Giants prospect Angel Villalona faces an April 27 preliminary hearing on the murder charges against him in the Dominican Republic.
Villalona, 19, is charged with murder in connection with the shooting death of a man in a Dominican bar last September.
On April 27, the judge will consider if the evidence against Villalona is strong enough for the case to go to trial. Villalona is currently free on bond.
PREDICTION FOR GIANTS IN 2010: Not yet.
More Splash Hits predicted a 70-92 record in 2008 — the first post-Barry Bonds year when many talking heads were talking about a 100-loss season for the Giants. The Giants finished 72-90.
More Splash Hits predicted a 83-79 mark for 2009, when most thought the Giants’ lack of offensive punch would destine them to another 90-loss season. The Giants finished 88-74.
So what’s the call for 2010? Well, as the Giants are putting more of their roster decision off to the 11th hour, so we will likewise wait before making our prediction.