SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Angel Villalona shed no light on his arrest, incarceration and eventual dismissal of charges stemming from a fatal shooting in the Dominican Republic in 2009.
He calmly declined all attempts to question him regarding the incident, claiming neither innocence nor guilt while meeting with reporters on Friday, when Giants position players reported to spring training.
Villalona shed something else, though – almost 50 pounds, thereby addressing the officially listed barrier to getting his U.S. work visa approved following a year of delays and denials. He said his weight had ballooned to as much as 290 pounds. He’s nearer to 240 now.
“The one thing I can say is I’m here to play,” the 22-year-old first baseman said in Spanish to translator Erwin Higueros. “I’m here to give my all to getting back to playing baseball.”
He didn’t say much else. Asked about the perception that he got away with murder, Villalona maintained a steady voice and declined comment.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “I just want to concentrate on playing baseball like before.”
Villalona, whose power-hitting prowess earned him a $2.1 million bonus as a 16-year-old, hadn’t stepped foot in the U.S. since September, 2009. That’s when he was on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps for Single-A San Jose and was given permission to visit his mother in the Dominican Republic. While there, he was charged in the barroom shooting death of 25-year-old Mario Felix de Jesus Velete, reportedly because the victim was sitting in the wrong chair.
Villalona settled with the victim’s family for a reported $139,000 and Villalona was either in jail or under house arrest for the better part of a year before charges were dropped.
Villalona was on Major League Baseball’s restricted list in 2010 and ’11 but was added to the Giants’ 40-man roster prior to last season. The Giants said they wanted to protect Villalona from being taken in the Rule 5 draft, but the first baseman also reportedly had brought a $5 million breach of contract suit against the club in the Dominican Republic.
Asked about the basis for the suit, Villalona said he “didn’t know anything about that.”
Giants manager Bruce Bochy insisted that Villalona wouldn’t be a distraction to a club that otherwise has no chemistry concerns after returning nearly everyone from last season’s World Series championship.
“I know it’s been a long journey for him,” Bochy said. “He’s rededicated himself to get another opportunity. He’s getting ready for the season and he’ll be part of it.”
Giants CEO Larry Baer said Villalona “has been working hard and has been a good teammate so we’re reacting to that.”
Villalona played for the Giants’ club in the Dominican Summer League last season after the U.S. Consulate denied his visa request on the rarely cited grounds that he did not meet the physical fitness standards to work as a professional athlete.
Villalona hit .303 with seven home runs in 44 games for the Giants’ summer-league club, then played winter ball in the Dominican as well.
“I played very hard but I am aware that here is a different type of baseball and I’ll have to work double for the competition,” said Villalona, who wasn’t sure which minor league level he would resume his career. “Thanks to God first of all and thanks to all those who believed in me,” he said. “I never doubted myself. I knew I could do it. … People here have confidence in me so I tried to do the same thing.”
Villalona, who probably will be among the earlier rounds of cuts in big league camp, said he knew several Giants players including Pablo Sandoval, Ehire Adrianza and Francisco Peguero. He was asked what he would say to those teammates, and others, who wondered about his absence.
“Like what?” Villalona said.
There was no follow-up.