Published February 16, 2013
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Over three years after he was charged with murder in his native Dominican Republic, Angel Villalona is back in the dugout, back in uniform, eager for a new baseball life.
The San Francisco Giants' former top first base prospect declined to address his legal past — specifically, exactly what happened.
"I'd rather not talk about it," he said through an interpreter Friday. "I just want to concentrate on playing baseball. ... I'm here to get back to playing baseball. I'm thankful they gave me a second chance."
Villalona was charged in the September 2009 death of a 25-year-old man at a bar. He was freed on bond that November after the family of the deceased asked a judge to drop the case, but Villalona was also stripped of his U.S. visa at the time.
"I never doubted myself. I never thought that (I couldn't get back here). I always thought I could do it, just like people here have confidence in me," Villalona said.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy envisions few issues or distractions with the arrival of Villalona, who has dropped from 290 pounds to 250 in preparation for his comeback.
The 22-year-old Villalona reported to spring training Friday and was undergoing a physical ahead of the first full-squad workout by the reigning World Series champions Saturday.
Last spring, Villalona had his visa delayed for what the team was told were weight and health issues. Major League Baseball has already reinstated him from the restricted list.
"He's coming in, I know it's been a long journey for him," Bochy said following Friday's workout. "From what I gather, he's really rededicated himself and is excited about getting another opportunity. We're getting ready for a season, and he'll be part of it."
In fall 2011, Villalona dropped a lawsuit against the Giants seeking $5 million in damages after the team decided to reinstate him. He alleged the Giants kept him on the inactive list even though he had been cleared of homicide charges. Villalona had sought back wages and punitive damages.
When asked about the lawsuit Friday, he said, "I don't know what happened there."
Villalona received a $2.1 million bonus when San Francisco signed him at age 16 in August 2006. It was the biggest bonus the franchise had ever given to an amateur player at the time.
He was considered among the club's top prospects before the 2008 season and was selected for the Futures Game during All-Star festivities that year. San Francisco reportedly outbid the New York Yankees, Mets, Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners for Villalona.
He still knows many of the current members of the Giants and vowed to meet new faces each day. But he doesn't appear ready to stand before his teammates and say anything.
"Like what?" he said when asked about giving a message to the other players.
The 6-foot-3 slugging first baseman played for the Giants' Dominican Summer League team last year, batting .303 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs in 44 games. He doesn't know where he will play this season.
"I will work here and go wherever the Giants assign me to go," he said. "I'm very happy and I thank God for being here. I had faith that I could, and I trained to be back."
Villalona played in 74 games for Class-A San Jose in 2009. He hit .267 with nine home runs and 42 RBIs.
Bochy isn't planning a sit-down or special meeting with Villalona.
"Well, like normal, like I would any player maybe," Bochy said. "I knew when I first came here. We've got work to do, and he'll be part of the group here getting ready for the season."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.