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02/21/12 7:28 PM EST
Villalona's return delayed by visa issue
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Another bottleneck has formed in Angel Villalona's career path. Villalona, the would-be slugging prospect who in recent years has strayed closer to the jury box than the batter's box, will miss Thursday's reporting date for Giants position players due to visa problems. Giants vice president of player personnel Bobby Evans said Tuesday that officials in the Dominican Republic have delayed approval of Villalona's P-1 work visa for physical reasons. "It's a visa that requires that they be an elite athlete. And currently, he's not in what they viewed as ... top physical condition," Evans said. The HIPAA Privacy Rule prevented Evans from citing specifics about Villalona's health status. But Villalona has a history of weight issues. Formerly a third baseman, Villalona moved to first base after he signed for a then-club-record $2.1 million bonus with the Giants in August 2006, having thickened noticeably. Evans indicated that excess poundage wasn't all that prevented Villalona from receiving his visa, saying that "a combination" of factors were involved. Evans added that Villalona has lost weight since he began working out at the Giants' Dominican baseball academy in late December. Said head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner of Villalona, "He's doing what he's supposed to be doing." The Giants, said Evans, are trying to work with Dominican officials in gaining approval for Villalona, 21. "We don't know if this delay's 24 hours or two weeks," Evans said. "We're hoping that we can convince them that he's in the condition that he should be to come in and participate in Spring Training. ... We are disappointed, but we're also hopeful that we'll be able to cross over the line that they need crossed to convince them that he's ready." Villalona received his chance to attend his first Major League spring camp when the Giants placed him on the 40-man roster last November, though he hadn't played professionally since 2009 and never had performed above high-Class A. In September 2009, Villalona became a suspect in the murder of Mario Felix de Jesus Velete. He was released on bond two months later but still faced the murder charges. The victim's family asked a judge to drop the case and received a reported $139,000 settlement from Villalona, who remained free on bond but had his U.S. visa revoked. Villalona filed a $5 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against the Giants earlier this year, but dropped the suit after the organization reinstated him to its farm system. In 254 Minor League games, Villalona has hit .268 with 31 home runs and 144 RBIs. Selected for the World team in the 2008 XM All-Star Futures Game, the right-handed batter has drawn comparisons to Andres Galarraga for his power potential. Villalona's absence from camp will have little or no impact on the Giants, since he has no chance of making the Opening Day roster and remains destined to begin the season in the low Minors, given his inactivity.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.