Dominican slugger Angel Villalona is a former top prospect who signed with the San Francisco Giants at the age of 16, but failed to immediately develop into the All-Star caliber player he was thought to be. According to former big league scout Bernie Pleskoff of MLB.com, Villalona could still supply the Giants with much needed power in the middle of their lineup, though.
Villalona is unlikely to make an impact on the big league club in the upcoming season, but could potentially compete for a roster spot in 2015. At 23 years old, Villalona is young enough to establish himself as a franchise cornerstone, despite seemingly adopting status as a farmhand afterthought.
Villalona owns a .260 career batting average with 60 home runs and 248 RBI in five minor league seasons. He’s expected to begin the 2014 campaign with the Giants’ triple-A affiliate in Fresno. If he’s able to post impressive numbers at that level, it’s possible that he earns a September call-up.
That feat recently seemed far-fetched, considering Villalona’s damaging off-the-field issues. In September 2009, Villalona was charged with murder in the Dominican Republic, where he had become a local legend because of his outstanding abilities on the baseball field. Villalona would escape the confines of a jail cell by posting bail. He also paid the shooting victim’s family six figures in what can only be described as an unofficial settlement.
Nothing has changed legally in regard to the charges against Villalona, although he continues to pursue a professional career in baseball. He declined to offer insight to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle upon arriving to spring training last season. The gruesome incident will hang over his head forever, regardless of if he ever climbs to the ranks of big league power hitters.
Villalona could be described as a disappointment both on and off the field. He’s averaged just 12 home runs per season in the minor leagues, despite being initially dubbed a prolific power hitter. At 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, Villalona is noticeably out of shape. His weight has ballooned over the course of his professional career, disabling him from manning his natural position at the hot corner.
The former third baseman compares somewhat to current Giants’ happy-go-lucky slugger Pablo Sandoval, who also battles weight problems, but is nimble and athletic enough to effectively play his position. The Giants’ front office brass remains hopeful that Villalona can eventually make an impact in the big leagues. That sentiment is signified by Villalona’s presence on the Giants’ 40-man roster.
In 2006, the Giants invested a club-record $2.1 million signing bonus in Villalona. He was highly regarded as one of the best international free agents at the time. Now, it could be contended that Villalona’s enormous struggles are the reason why the Giants remain relatively inactive in international free agency, despite the spike in overseas talent.
Pleskoff believes Villalona still boasts substantial upside, though. But only “if” the could-be power hitter dedicates himself to developing better hand-eye coordination while making a commitment to stay in baseball shape. As spring training approaches, Villalona is presumably on the comeback trail.