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Many Strange Questions About Angel Villalona

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In one of the weirder twists of this or any off-season, the Giants late Friday added Angel Villalona to the 40-man roster. The big Dominican kid, signed for $2.1 million as a teenager, has been out of baseball since 2009 after he was charged with murder stemming from a bar fight, apparently. A while back the charges were dropped -- with Villalona reportedly settling up with the victim's family -- and Villalona sued the Giants for breach of contract. They've settled, too, and Villalona is finally eligible again to play if the US government grants him a work visa.

He's now 21, and last we saw him, he was struggling as a 19-year-old in High A ball after a decent showing as an 18-year-old in the Low A Sally League. If he returns to San Jose next year, he'll still be age-appropriate for the league. Will he be rusty? Will he be welcomed? What would it be like to play day-in, day-out with a guy who quite possibly shot and killed someone? I don't think Villalona will be the subject of too many practical jokes. Not the guy you want to whack in the face with a shaving-cream pie.

More seriously, though, you have to wonder how much slack the Giants will cut him. If he struggles in the low minors for a year or two, and finds himself 23 or 24 years old and not pushing his way into the AAA conversation, will the Giants be patient?

Another consideration is that even as a teenager he was growing into a first-baseman-only body, if I remember reports correctly. (He started as a third baseman, which I don't think lasted long.) I'd be shocked if he has reversed that trend while in legal limbo. If Villalona gets his visa, one of the most intriguing stories of the spring -- other than Barry Zito's moustache, of course -- will be Villalona's weight. Can the kid play first base, or will he be tabbed as a 21-year-old DH-in-waiting? With the Giants endemic lack of power, even a barely acceptable glove at first base might be worth keeping as long as its owner also sports a mighty bat. 

Then there's the flip side: What if Villalona actually makes it? As a major leaguer, those unsettling (and unsettled) questions about his past, all the charges and lawsuits and money changing hands, suddenly become red meat to reporters, who will ask those questions at every stop on a road trip. It's not the distraction a team once synonymous with clubhouse drama wants. And if there are skeletons, they aren't likely to stay closeted. I'm not saying there are, and a man is innocent until proven guilty and all that (I assume the Dominican justice system makes the same assumption). But from a practical standpoint, you have to wonder if the Giants have thought through all this as they try to slide Villalona back into the organization and, if all the on-field pieces fall into place, he could be their starting first baseman in three or four years.


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