Giants sign 16-year-old Dominican Phenom

The Giants have often been criticized for their relaxed attitude towards investing in top prospects for their farm system, but that may be changing, as the Giants pay out a record bonus for a 16 year old player coveted across the majors.

The San Francisco Giants paid out a franchise record $2.1 million bonus to sign 16 year-old third baseman Angel Villalona this weekend, one of the top prospects coming out of the Dominican Republic.

General Manager Brian Sabean didn’t hide any enthusiasm.  “"Everybody's excited, Angel is a phenomenal talent.”

Villalona is 6’2 and 200 pounds already, and is already drawing comparisons to other top prospects.  Giants Director of Latin American Scouting Pablo Pegeuro invoked the names of Adrian Beltre and Raul Mondesi, whom he signed for the Dodgers organization, and players he scouted like Vladimir Guerrero and Alfonso Soriano, and then said “None of them had the abilities of Villalona at his age.”

Villalona only turned 16 on August 13th of this year, and signed within days of turning eligible.

The Giants, who have a notorious reputation of being cheap, won a bidding war that reportedly included teams like the New York Yankees, New York Mets, and Seattle Mariners, but both Villalona and the Giants have indicated that the team established a good relationship with the young man and his family that brought about his choice.  Giants International Scouting Director Rick Ragazzo said of the signing, “"The player pursued us," Ragazzo said, "and the family confirmed the signing."

“It's the first time in a while we were at the right place at the right time, because there was a lot of action on him. He's a big-money-club type of acquisition,” Sabean said.

$2.1 million is the largest bonus the Giants have ever given to a prospect from Latin America.  The previous high was $900,000 for Francisco Liriano in 2000, though the Giants also paid $4.5 million, including a $1.3 million bonus, for a three year contract with 28 year old Cuban Defector Osvaldo Fernandez in 1996.  The $2.1 million is also the second largest bonus ever given to a Dominican player, only behind the $2.3 million paid to Wily Mo Pena by the Yankees.

Some people think the Giants got a bargain. “If they had waited a bit more, we could have gotten $5 million,” his trainer and manager Cristian Batista said to a local paper, the Listin Diaro, after the signing.

Villalona has picked up the nickname ‘Wily Mo’ in his hometown of La Ramona for his physical resemblance to Pena.  His projection goes further than Pena, though.

"For his age, his power is off the charts," Sabean said.  “We think he’s on the fast-track.”

"We saw him for the first time when he was 13, and even then he had power,” Ragazzo said.  “That was attractive off the bat. He has athletic ability, and he profiles—he has a chance to be a third baseman with power, with good hands, good rhythm in his swing, a smooth swing, a pure swing from the right side. He's got skills, he's agile, he's coordinated and can run some for a big man."

Villalona will report to Arizona in a few weeks for the Giants’ fall instructional league.  He is expected to play for the Giants minor league team in the Dominican Summer League in 2007, and may make his debut in a full-season league for the Giants in 2008.

Notorious agent Scott Boras had suggested he was the agent of Villalona when the international signing season started, but Ragazzo refuted that claim. "You'll have to ask the kid who represents him," Ragazzo said.

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