The journey to this Spring Training has been a long, difficult and winding road for Angel Villalona. Once, he was the crown jewel of the San Francisco Giants’ farm system. Now, he’s just happy to be playing baseball and not facing jail time in his native Dominican Republic. For manager Bruce Bochy, though, he’s just another prospect, and that’s just how Villalona wants it.
The 22-year old slugging first baseman made history when the Giants signed him at the age of 16 back in 2006 with a $2.1 million bonus. It was the highest bonus the franchise had ever given to an amateur player at the time, and San Francisco had to outbid the likes of the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners for the rights to sign the hot prospect.
He did not disappoint. He was quickly considered one of the club’s top prospects just two years later in 2008, when he was selected to the Futures Game during the All Star festivities. He appeared to be on the fast track to stardom as the next big-hitting first baseman to mash their way through the major leagues.
But then everything changed when Villalona was charged with murder in September of 2009 in connection to the death of a 25-year old man at a bar. He was released on bond after the family of the deceased asked the courts to drop the charges, but he had been stripped of his U.S. visa during the process. Unable to return to the country, the Giants and MLB had little choice but to place him on the inactive and restricted list.
That set off some acrimony between Villalona and the team, resulting in a law suit where the young Domincan was seeking $5 million in damages. He alleged that the Giants kept him on the inactive list even though he had been cleared of the homicide charges. Eventually, in the fall of 2011, Villalona dropped the lawsuit after the team decided to reinstate him.
But that wasn’t the end. Last spring, Villalona’s visa was delayed due to what was described to the team as weight and health issues. MLB had already reinstated him off the restricted list, so all he had to do was get back into the country, which proved more difficult than anticipated.
This spring, however, he’s finally here and happy be back in uniform, preparing to play baseball. He’s ready to turn the page on the past few years and focus on being the best baseball player he can be. He dropped from 290 pounds to 250 in preparation for his comeback, and hit the ball extremely well in the Domincan Summer League last summer, when he hit .303 with seven home runs and 34 RBI in 44 games.
Bochy doesn’t expect any issues or distractions from Villalona’s presence in camp and is treating him just like any other prospect trying to make the big league club. He doesn’t plan on singling him out or sitting down for a special talk, but treating him the exact same as every other player, saying only “we’ve got work to do, and he’ll be part of the group here getting ready for the season.”
And Villalona couldn’t be happier with that.