In 2006, there was a bidding war for a 16-year-old kid from the Dominican Republic, Angel Villalona. The Giants eventually landed him with a $2.1 million signing bonus. At age 17, he was widely considered one of the top 35 prospects in baseball. By the age of 15 he was hitting 400-foot home runs and had become a national superstar in the Dominican. He struggled in his first year of single-A ball at San Jose, finishing with a .267 average, nine homers and a ton of strikeouts but still had the immense power to be a middle-of-the-order prospect.
Nothing like a murder charge to derail your career. Villalona was charged in the September 19, 2009, murder of Mario Felix de Jesus Velete at a downtown nightclub back home in the Dominican. The events of that night are still unclear with many eyewitnesses swearing that Angel had nothing to do with the shooting. The question is was Angel a target because of his fame and wealth or were witnesses in his defense flying out of the woodwork for the same reason?
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Some accounts talk about the generosity he had for his poor hometown of La Romana, while others say the money made him arrogant and he started traveling everywhere with a posse. The charges were eventually dropped in part because of a large financial settlement he gave the victim’s family. We also know that Latin players have become a tremendous target when they go back to their home countries because of their wealth. I’m not here to judge his innocence or guilt.
Villalona had also sued the Giants for violating the terms of his contract. The lawsuit was settled this past September.
What may have slipped under the radar for many is the fact the Giants added Villalona to their 40-man roster this past November meaning the Giants believe there is still hope for him as a ballplayer. I don’t know if it says anything about their belief in his innocence regarding the murder. After all this, Villalona is still only 21 years old, so he has the time to get himself back in shape and become the player he had the potential to be. It may not be this year, next year or five years, but I believe Villalona will get his chance at the major-league level, and we can see if his power is for real.