Nice article u may have read last year
BIG KID, BIG HOPES
16-year-old holds 40-40 promise, but Giants are preaching patience
John Shea, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
(09-26) 04:00 PDT Scottsdale , Ariz. -- Angel Miguel Villalona sat alone in a dugout in Scottsdale Stadium, awaiting his first interview as a professional ballplayer. Before it began, four Giants employees emerged, one to interpret and three just to be there.
Officials at the Giants' instructional league site were reluctant to allow Villalona to be interviewed, fearing it would be too much for him to handle and too much would be made of how he arrived here. The interview was granted, with a gentle nudge from the front office.
The Giants have good reasons to be cautious with this particular prospect.
Villalona is 16. Last month, he signed out of the Dominican Republic for $2.1 million. If he were American, he'd be a high school sophomore, perhaps wondering if he had enough lunch money.
Instead, he's a bonus baby (in every sense of the term) in a foreign land surrounded by people speaking a foreign language. More than 60 players reported for instructional league, a monthlong camp in which young prospects receive extra training and game experience, and Villalona is the youngest by far.
"I think if I work really hard, I could be in the majors in two years."
That's what Villalona said during the interview, revealing his lofty goal, but that's not how the interpreter, Leo Garcia, translated it. Garcia, a minor-league coach from the Dominican, left out the "dos años" part.
In defense of Garcia, he wasn't trying to hide government secrets or conceal the truth as part of an international conspiracy. He was simply trying to be protective and not let it be known that a 16-year-old wants to play third base for the Giants when he's 18, no matter how gifted Villalona may be.
And the kid is gifted.
"Excellent, soft hands, better-than-average arm, ball jumps off his bat like a man," said Jack Hiatt, the Giants' director of player development. "This kid at 16 doesn't look out of place at all. In my opinion, he's got a fabulous future. Outstanding signing."
The signing was unusual. Typically, the Giants are on the sideline when teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers throw big money at players in Latin America. The Giants' persistence paid off with Villalona, who felt comfortable enough with the Giants that he reportedly signed for $1 million less than what he could have received elsewhere.
Rick Ragazzo, the Giants' director of international operations, first noticed Villalona at 13, hitting balls all over a field in batting practice. Ragazzo kept in contact with Villalona and his people and phoned Villalona on Aug. 13, Villalona's 16th birthday and, by rules that govern Major League Baseball, the day he became eligible to sign a professional contract.
No representatives from other teams called that day. General manager Brian Sabean offered $2.1 million almost immediately. He had received dazzling reports from Ragazzo and Pablo Peguero, who heads the Giants' Dominican scouting, and he had a video of the kid. Villalona accepted. The contract has not yet been approved, according to Major League Baseball, but is expected to in about a week.
It's the biggest signing bonus the Giants have paid an amateur, topping the $2.025 million they gave Tim Lincecum, selected 10th overall in the June draft. Previously, the most they paid a Latin player was $1.3 million (Cuban Osvaldo Fernandez in 1996), and the most they paid a Dominican was $900,000 (Francisco Liriano in 2000).
"I was mad," said Felix Liriano, who's known in the Dominican as a buscone, a talent scout who recruits teenage prospects and makes them available to big-league clubs for a hefty percentage. "He lost money just to be with San Francisco. I didn't want him to sign with San Francisco. I'm told he could've gotten $3 million from Seattle, and other teams like the Yankees, Mets and Boston were interested.
"Rick and Pablo, they made Angel feel special. Money's not everything to him. He grew up in a poor town, but I've given him what he's needed the last three years. He came out of poverty, and I gave him everything. He didn't have to worry about food or clothes, so money's not everything."
Liriano, a former Class A pitcher with the Tigers, said he's receiving 30 percent of Villalona's bonus -- or $630,000 -- a far greater amount than the 4-5 percent big-leaguers' agents generally receive.
But Liriano said he invested $90,000 in Villalona, put him up in the capital of Santo Domingo from age 13, exposed him to big-league scouts and opened a grocery store for his mother, Elizabeth, at her home in La Romana, on the Dominican's southeastern coast.
(Agent Scott Boras said he also has a role in representing Villalona and sent documentation to the Giants. He reportedly threatened litigation against the Giants for not including him in negotiations. The Giants say they did everything by the book and dealt directly with the family and Liriano.)
According to Liriano, Villalona's parents are separated, his father (also Angel) works in the sugar cane fields, making the equivalent of $40 a week, and Angel Jr. has two younger half-brothers, both of whom have different fathers. When Angel Jr. was asked what he'll do with his money, he said the first thing is to buy his mother a new house.
When the Giants announced the signing on Aug. 19, they listed Villalona at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. The instructional league staff says he's closer to 6-3. Either way, it's plenty of body for a 16-year-old. Liriano said Villalona gets his size from his father's side and athleticism from his mother's side -- his maternal grandfather was a ballplayer.
Although the Giants suggest Villalona lacks experience in organized ball, Liriano said he sometimes made payoffs to corporate-sponsored teams for Villalona to get into games and, as early as 14, faced pitchers in their 20s throwing fastballs topping 90 mph. When addressing Villalona's future, Liriano held nothing back.
"This kid's going to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in the major leagues," Liriano said.
The Giants are more reserved.
"I've heard he'll be in the big leagues in two years, in three years. No, no, no," Ragazzo said. "He's got a lot to learn. He's got to learn how to be a baseball player. How to be a Giant. You have to be patient. You have to realize where he came from. When you give money out like this, people expect a superhuman player. It's not fair.
"You can't expect quick results when he's just learning bunt signs for the first time in his life."
After instructional league ends in October, Villalona will go back to the Dominican (the Giants say he'll take English classes) until it's time to return to Arizona for minor-league spring training. While the Giants' Spanish-speaking coaches will try to keep tabs on Villalona, they can do only so much as the teenager adjusts to his new income level -- he'll receive the bonus in increments. As Sabean said, "It's your money, and you do have to be responsible for it and be able to handle it."
"I don't see him buying six Corvettes," Hiatt said. "He's a down-to-earth young man, very respectful."
Said Ragazzo: "You teach kids the best you can, and you hope the people around him will take care of him and won't steal from him."
Liriano was in instructional league only a few days. Boras said he has an assistant in Scottsdale available to Villalona. But perhaps the best support group is his teammates.
Shortstop Emmanuel Burris, the 33rd overall pick in the June draft out of Kent State, is half-Dominican and half-African American and translates for Villalona when coaches address players in a group. Burris, a fast-track prospect who's compared to a young Royce Clayton, is five years older than Villalona.
"It's got to be overwhelming for him to be 16 years old, this far away from home," Burris said. "At 16, I'd have been completely lost to go to another country like this. He's good, man. Lot of tools. Lot of skills. We've tried to hang out with him, teach him things about America, how to order food at a restaurant, things like that."
Burris smiled and added a line the Giants probably didn't want to hear: "We've taught him how to order the No. 1 at McDonald's."
In their early years in San Francisco, the Giants owned the market on Latin players, signing Juan Marichal, the Alou brothers and Manny Mota from the Dominican, Orlando Cepeda and Jose Pagan from Puerto Rico, and Jose Cardenal and Tito Fuentes from Cuba.
But the organization virtually ignored the Latin market through the '70s, '80s and into the '90s. After Peter Magowan's group bought the club in 1992, and with the percentage of Latin players steadily growing on other rosters, Magowan pushed for the door to reopen, and the club named an experienced scout, Luis Rosa, as their coordinator of Latin American operations.
Rosa exited in 1997 amid a legal issue in which several players he signed accused him of demanding sexual favors and embezzling part of their signing bonuses and salaries.
The list of the Giants' Latin signees reaching the majors isn't deep -- no signee out of Latin America has done more for the team since the '60s than Pedro Feliz, the Dominican third baseman. Others include Salomon Torres, Yorvit Torrealba and Deivi Cruz. Club officials hope the Villalona signing could bring in more high-level talent.
"I think we took a step saying we want to get involved in top quality Latin players," Hiatt said.
Feliz, who plays the same position as Villalona and will be a free agent after the season, said, "It's good to hear about young guys from our country. But it's a big difference nowadays. They're making millions of dollars. When I signed, I got $5,000. It was very good money."
Feliz was one of many Latin players forced to admit, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, that his birth records were fudged, and that he was born in 1975, not 1977.
How do the Giants know Villalona is 16?
"Records in the Dominican are better kept," Ragazzo said. "It's what we know to be accurate."
In his first game in instructional league, in which he grounded out twice to third base and didn't have any plays against a group of Angels prospects, Villalona said, "I feel good being the youngest because the older players make me want to work harder. I like it here. I like all the opportunities there are in America."
Who's his favorite player? Who else?
"Barry Bonds," he said.
Angel Miguel Villalona
Job: Giants infield prospect
Origin: Dominican Republic
Weight: 210 pounds
Signing bonus: $2.1 million
Just traded BButler, BWood & JLoney for Mark Teixeira, Ryan Theriot & Renyel Pinto in a DYNASTY LEAGUE. Big gamble I know!