#10 - Angel Villalona
|Date of Birth: 08/13/1990||Position: 3B||Height: 6'2"||Weight: 210||Bats: R||Throws: R|
Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2006
Did not play in an affiliated league in 2006
The reputation the Giants have had for years is that they do not appreciate the farm system, and try to shy away from prospects in general.
But in 2006, after setting a franchise record for a draft bonus, made an even more shocking splash by signing Dominican prospect Angel Villalona merely days after his 16th birthday. And they signed him for $2.1 million, the largest bonus for a Dominican prospect since Joel Guzman got $2.25 million in 2001.
This, for a kid who would be a sophomore in an American high school, and who hasn't played a single game in an affiliated league.
Is he worth it? Well, at 16, he's got the body of an adult, at 6'2 and 210 pounds, with room for growth. He's got all five tools: hitting for average, hitting for power, arm strength, defensive ability, and footspeed. And one report says that he hit a 400 foot deep home run in a game with a wooden bat (which are heavier and not used in most high school and college leagues). And he hit that home run at the age of 13. The scout that signed him, who also signed Raul Mondesi and pursued Vladimir Guerrero indicated that Villalona has more skills than either of them had at that age
There's enough to be excited about, that's for sure. But for the average prospect that's coming out of high school, or even college, the road to the majors is a long one with a lot of caveats and pitfalls. For a 16-year old, it's almost unimaginable, mostly because it rarely happens that a player like this comes out at that age.
Some projections about Villalona are easy. The power is there now, he's got batspeed that is special, Barry Bonds special. His swing is made for batting average as well. And he has the arm strength and response time to play third base, although if he continues to grow, he may need to move elsewhere. He does have the athleticism to play outfield.
Other projections are harder. Villalona has speed now, but not all 16-year olds can keep that speed even through the age of 24. And looking at his frame, he does look like he might put on weight that's not muscle. That could be something he'll have to work hard to not fight off. A big second worry is his ability to handle major league pitching. This isn't some Larry Krueger-esque generalization, you always wonder how a 16-year old will handle his first real slider or curveball. And while there's been plenty of scouting done on him, there's no real test for a batting eye or pitch recognition until you're in that batter's box against real pitchers.
And he has not been in the box against ‘real' pitchers yet.
That goes into another difficult projection: where will Villalona start facing those pitchers? A reasonable projection is that he might start in the Dominican Summer League, where just about every signed 16-year old plays. Another fairly reasonable projection is playing in Extended Spring Training until the Arizona Rookie League begins in mid-June. The Rookie League is mostly populated by 18-19-year olds, but it would not be unheard of for a 16-year old who turns 17 that season to play there.
But in one fall radio interview, Giants General Manager Brian Sabean indicated the possibility that Villalona could start 2007 all the way up in full season ball at Augusta, a league with few players under the age of 20. That move would be an incredibly hard push, and an incredibly hard challenge for any 16-year old, no matter how talented. The Giants have had a relationship with his family since he was 13, and they have complimented his maturity frequently, but playing baseball in a foreign country can put a lot of pressure on anyone.
At this point, Villalona is a mystery. It's quite possible he may never live up to expectations. He was given the nickname ‘Wily Mo' in the Dominican Republic because of his similarity to Wily Mo Pena, another man-child who came out of Dominican Republic. Pena debuted at the age of 20, and while he has been a talented player, his career .261 average is somewhat of a disappointment at 25, and he has hit more than 20 home runs only once, and likewise has only played more than 100 games once. That is mostly due to injuries, another thing that Villalona will have to deal with in many years in the minors. Again, he has no reported injury history, but at 16, there's plenty of time for history to start.
No one position player in the last 15 years of the Giants farm system at least has had the kind of heat or expectations that Villalona has. That might be underestimation; you could include pitchers in that statement. Or, for that matter, include everyone until 1951, when Willie Mays made his major league debut. But potential is a long ways from being a perennial All-Star, or even a perennial Major Leaguer. However, the coming seasons could be the first times even the most casual Giants fan will look to see how a kid is doing in the minors.
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