Thursday, February 07, 2013

Angel in the Infield: Visa Approved

According to a Baseball America article (saw the link on DrB's in the comments), Angel Villalona gets his work visa approved and will be in camp with the Giants during spring training.  He'll be joining the team next week.

ogc thoughts

Most reports were that Villalona would be stuck in his native DR.  Or rather, most speculation.  BA in their Giants prospect Q&A recently, noted that they had not heard anything new and doubt that "he will ever be allowed back in the U.S." (got that from DrB's report on the Q&A).  His getting the visa makes more sense to me, the State Department can only put up so many legal road blocks when Angel was not convicted of anything.

Not that he was necessarily innocent either, we'll never know exactly what happened that terrible night, but the victim's family has moved on with their settlement, the district attorney decided that there was not enough evidence to hold him any longer, and now the State Department has granted him his visa.  Nobody can prove otherwise and for all we know, the victim's family squeezed Villalona because he was the only rich person in the fracas.  It definitely will be a shadow on the rest of his career and something brought up anytime he is in the news.

That said, it made perfect sense that the State Department would make it hard for him to return, and they threw the best and apparently only pitch that they had:  whether he was an elite player which would make him eligible to come into the U.S. on a work visa.  And he had no proof and after sitting around in jail for so long and/or without competitive play, he had to be rusty and some players never come back from that, particularly players who had problems keeping his weight off as Angel did.

So he played in the Dominican Summer League last season - hard to remember, but he's still only 22 YO for this season - and he hit .303/.430/.497/.927, knocking 7 homers in 44 games.  Admittedly, the competition there was not minor league caliber, but he could at least say that he was among the elite there, making it harder for anyone to make further objections to him returning to the U.S.  He was 8th in OPS, though as a 21 YO last season, he was clearly among the oldest guys playing there plus he had two years of US minor league ball under his belt, so he should have been expected to dominate there.  He was only 15th in OBP and 10th in SLG, but there were few who were good in both, leading to 8th in OPS.  It helped that he was 7th in homers, and that was also because he played about 30% less games than other players.  Had he played at that rate for the 66 or so games that the top players played, he would have been first or second instead.  This dominance made sense because most reports were that he worked out while sidelined with his legal problems and got himself into better shape.

And that is why he was such a prized prospect and highly rated:  he could hit the long ball.   At 17 YO, in the Sally, where pitchers had 5 more years of age and experience on average over him, and in his first full season U.S. league, he hit 17 homers and that was good for a tie for 12th in the league.  One more homer and he would have been tied for 8th, two more tied for 5th.  Others near his age, 18 YO:  Jesus Montero, 17 homers; Freddie Freeman, 18 homers; Matt Dominguez, 18 homers; Michael Burgess (19 YO), 18 homers.

He was also tied for 12th in doubles with 29.  That is usually a precursor for more homers as he got older and more developed.  Montero had 34 and Freeman 33, but they both had roughly 10% more AB, so basically at the same rate of production as Montero and Freeman.   Where he lacked relative to them was his poor batting average, he just struck out a lot more than they did, hence why they are better.  Still, he was close to them.  And the projections back then were talking about him having 30-40 homerun power.

He did not hit that well in SJ, but his 9 homers tied him for 42nd in the Cal League, impressive since he only played 74 games and most of the top prospects there played around 130 games, almost double.  If he had a similar number of ABs as the leaders did, he would have had 15 homers, which would have been good for tie at 14th, and that is great because he was only 18 YO and there was not even one teenager in the leader list other than him.  All the other hitters were mostly 4 years older than him, like a certain Buster Posey, who had 13 homers in similar AB.   He has hit for power everywhere he has gone for significant amount of playing time.

It will be interesting where the Giants eventually place him in the farm system.  He was last in San Jose, and he hit OK there for an 18 YO, hitting .267/.306/.397/.704 with 9 HR in an injury marred season, limiting him to 74 games.  But since he's been rusty and out of competitive play, they might let him go to Augusta, to get acclimated again to full-season minor league baseball, then let his bat decide whether he needs to move up or not. In any case, he was once a Top 100 ranked prospect, even though he was so young and inexperienced, so if he can return with any resemblance to the prospect he was before, that would be a huge boost to our farm system.

In addition, despite his weight issues, reports were that he worked hard at continuing to take fielding at 3B even while the Giants played him at 1B, and that he worked off a lot of that "baby-fat" that he carried when he was in San Jose, while he was incarcerated.  If he really can play 3B, that would give us another home run hitting 3B in the farm system and with Duvall around, between the two of them would make the future of 3B look pretty good for us, as we could go with Posey once Sandoval needs to move to 1B, or if either makes it all the way up, they could take over at that point at 3B.  And even if he stays at 1B, Belt could always move to LF, where he played previously in high school and did OK there in the majors in very limited play.

Options are always good, especially when they are blue chip prospects, as Angel once was and might be again for the Giants.  It will be a catch-up season for him, a make good season, as while he is still young, 22 YO is getting old for an elite prospect, and he will need to prove that he's back from his injury and his long layoff, before he will get ranked high again, if ever.  I think that he has the skills, but does he have the will?  Can he keep the weight off (enough)?

He also has a huge negative that has ruined the prospect ranking of other prodigious homerun hitters:  he strikes out a heck of a lot.  He has also walked a lot too, but his strikeout rates need to go down a lot.  While it was partially explainable by the fact that he was facing pitchers with 4-5 years or more experience and age over him, that was no longer true last summer, in fact, he was the old guy in the league, and he still struck out 40 times in only 155 AB (only 74% contact rate; 85%+ for good hitters).  But he also walked a lot too, boosting his OK .303 average to a great .430 OBP.  This is something he will need to solved, not fully but enough, before he ever wears a major league uniform.

9 comments:

  1. Dan Lozano is a slime-ball spammer, I just got a bunch of spammed comments on my blog, advertising his services. I hope he is not an agent for any of the Giants players, as my feelings towards them will be affected.

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    1. Brian Wilson is a Lozano client. (So are Pujols, Votto, and some other top guys.) If you google him, OGC, you'll discover that your very low opinion of him is widely shared.

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  2. Valuable, thoughtful discussion (as usual), OGC.

    On strikeouts: I wonder what the average contact rate is in the DSL. Young players, hoping to strike it rich in, for many of them, a context of desperate poverty, had better be aggressive to attract attention. That makes me speculate that they swing a lot; and a rusty, also (for different reasons) perhaps desperate Villalona, in that environment, might be swinging a lot. Those factors would make me a bit skeptical of how predictive his contact rate will turn out to be. It's good that he will be in ST in a very different sort of mental environment, for the best experts the Giants have to see how teachable he is.

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    1. Very good point, I did not think of that, let me check.

      Contact rate for the league is 78.6%, which is not much better than Angel's 74.2%.

      That got me curious what the MLB contact rate is: 78.0%. I had read that strikeouts were on the rise, this would seem to corroborate that. It was 80.3% in 2008, and 81.0% in 2004, 81.3% in 2000. So the contact rate has definitely been dropping over time (meaning players are striking out more and more).

      Shandler still notes 85% as the threshold for the best in the majors. And noted 79% average contact in 2012 (not sure why my data don't matches his). Of course, that is the majors.

      I know that this is a fine line. I just wanted to note that he was still struggling with the strikeouts. That's important in any context. And he struck out more than what the average player in the league did and he's older (though to your point, I did miss that he basically has the same experience because he was 18 when he last played competitive ball, so that is something to include in the equation of evaluating his performance) so usually that means he should have some advantage over the younger players in performing.

      Bottom line, contact rate was not that good, even within context of the league. However, to your point, it is not fully predictive. Still, striking out more than other players is generally not a good thing. Unless, of course, you are blasting the big ones, which he did.

      I thought to check his last season in SJ: 75.0% contact rate there, but league average is only 76.9%, so he was not as bad there as I had originally thought, plus playing in SJ Municipal Park generally raised strikeout rates. Too bad the minor league splits are no longer available for that season, would like to see how that splits now.

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  3. I have to say the whole Angel V saga smells like a shakedown to me. I am less than convinced that anybody even died, let alone was killed by Angel. Of course I have no more proof of this than there seems to be proof he did something, but still......The whole thing doesn't pass the smell test for me.

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    1. I am convinced that someone died, but it totally seems like a shakedown to me as well.

      But as I noted, no one will ever know, either way, aside from the people who were there that night. And there is no way to prove, either way, without a murder weapon with Angel's fingerprints on them. If the gun hasn't been found yet, it's never going to be found.

      One thing we need to remember is that he was held under DR laws, not U.S. laws. I don't know what level of evidence is necessary to hold people in jail. We don't know if the DA had any conflicts of interest in the case (whether he was related to the deceased, hung around that gang's circle of influence or was friendly).

      Heck, even under U.S. laws, a investigative reporter for the San Jose Mercury found that a number of DAs there was working in grey (and sometimes black) areas in terms of lawfulness and it was estimated that up to 30% or so of the convictions were not valid, more through the forcefulness of the DA than actual evidence (some forged evidence or kept silent on evidence that would have cleared the defendent).

      I guess that is why I am more forgiving of Angel's need to pay off the family in order to get out of his legal mess, which the media clearly has been driving home with their repeated reporting of that in any news account about Angel. If the U.S. DA has enough latitude to essentially convict innocent (or at least not proven guilty) people at such a high rate (30%+), I can only imagine how bad it could be in countries where their democracy is not as developed and particularly in a bad area as where Angel is from (from what I understand, it is one of the most poorest spots in the DR, which is already not that well off in the first place), where justice might be meted out more by the citizens than the actual law there. In my head, I imagine that law there might be closer to the way it was in the U.S. Wild Wild West, than it is to the current U.S. court system, but I stand ready to be corrected by anyone who knows better, this is wild speculation on my part.

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  4. News on Villalona reporting to camp:

    http://www.csnbayarea.com/blog/andrew-baggarly/villalona-sheds-pounds-no-light-murder-charge

    http://blogs.mercurynews.com/giants/2013/02/15/villalona-on-checkered-past-id-rather-not-talk-about-it/

    Both noted that he had ballooned to 290 pounds, a lot for any frame - he's 6' 3" - but Baggs noted that he's "nearer to 240 now" while Alex noted "the now 250-pound". His baseball-reference.com profile notes that he was 255 pounds. The Giants 2012 Media guide had him at 257 pounds.

    But that's a bad trajectory. BA's 2008 handbook had him at 210 pounds. 2009 had him at 230 pounds. So did 2010. And the view was that he was too fat already in 2009 season. Of course, we don't know how accurate those numbers are, they could have been provided by the Giants (I don't have my 2009 guide handy, must have got put into storage). I think we need to see him below 240 (which could be accomplished this spring if he's really nearer to 240, now that he has professional trainers working with him).

    This is where I don't understand why the Giants don't pay a trainer $50K to work with Angel to get his weight down in 2013. Why make their best prospects struggle on their own in areas where they clearly need help? They have a large investment in him and while that's a sunk cost now, given the potential upside - 40 HR good defensive 1B - that's not a lot to invest in getting him into better habits physically. Especially if they place him in San Jose, near the home club and their various resources available nearby.

    Best would be if any of their training or coaching staff who lives in the South Bay, they could be his host family while he's staying there, getting training and advice, 24x7, as well as being observed daily as to his habits and exercise routines.

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    1. Hank's account didn't show up on my reader until now:

      http://blog.sfgate.com/giants/2013/02/15/sf-giants-prospect-angel-villalona-declines-to-discuss-murder-charge/

      His account explains the difference in weight, 290 was the acknowledged high, but at one point he noted 250 and another point he noted he lost 50 pounds. Since Hank noted that he looked fit, I would go with 240 as his current weight, perhaps in the moment the flipped the digits on losing 50 pounds to say 250 pounds. And that's good news, the lower the weight, the better, though that does not obviate the fact that he ballooned to 290 before.

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  5. Great news! It was reported that Angel has been assigned to San Jose but the Giants haven't ruled out a promotion to AA!

    http://blogs.mercurynews.com/giants/2013/03/08/spring-notes-giants-checking-with-romo-after-long-ninth-the-first-round-of-cuts/

    ReplyDelete

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