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22TheThrill Profile
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Augusta in '08


Nice article in the Mercury today about Villalona and the 2008 Green Jackets. Got me thinking that a trip out to Georgia could be fun to watch this team play....

Giants' infield of future features Villalona
Augusta lineup also features shortstop, 2B
By Andrew Baggarly
Mercury News
Article Launched: 03/05/2008 01:38:53 AM PST


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Motorists on Hayden Road should look alive when they drive past the Giants' minor league complex.

Angel Villalona can reach them.

The stocky infielder is the star of the Giants' minor league mini-camp this spring, hitting deep drives beyond the left-field fence, over a protective netting, clearing the trees and bouncing off the pavement about 450 feet away.

Not bad for a 17-year-old.

"He is still immature," Giants special assistant Felipe Alou said. "We have not seen the kind of man he will become."

Villalona will be the most watched player on what could be the Giants' most talented minor league team in decades. He is bound for the Augusta GreenJackets in the low-A South Atlantic League, where his teammates are expected to include most of the high-ceiling high school talent the Giants picked up last June with their stockpile of first-round and supplemental draft picks.

Villalona, second baseman Nick Noonan (32nd overall) and shortstop Charlie Culberson (51st) form a teenage infield with extreme upside. Outfielder Wendell Fairley (29th) might be the best overall athlete in the system. And top pick Madison Bumgarner (10th) should get his first taste of pro ball in the Augusta rotation.

Tim Alderson (22nd) might form a powerful tandem with Bumgarner, though the right-hander has such advanced command that the Giants could boost him up a level to Class A San Jose.

Either way, there will be more blooming than the azaleas in Augusta this spring.
"Given that premise of, on one hand, the potential, and the other factor being the young age, on that basis you'd have to say it's one of the most talented teams we've had," Giants General Manager Brian Sabean said.

The GreenJackets posted the best record in minor league baseball in each of the past two seasons, but they didn't place many players on the Sally League top-prospect lists. Many scouts and officials from rival clubs explained away the GreenJackets' success by saying the Giants featured older teams.

That won't be the case this year. New Augusta manager Andy Skeels, who takes over for the promoted Roberto Kelly, knows he will have to be part coach, part chaperon and part psychologist to his teen dream team.

"The first full season provides a lot of challenges," said Skeels, who was Augusta's hitting coach last year. "As early as possible, you want them to have a clear understanding of what's in front of them and the work habits it requires. And not just stuff on the field, but also how to get an apartment, feed yourself and take care of yourself."

Culberson is from northern Georgia, so he won't be far from home. He'll show some Southern hospitality to his double-play partner, Noonan, who is from San Diego and endeared himself by driving his car to Arizona this spring.

"I'm relying on him to get around," Culberson said.

Noonan and Culberson met during instructional league in October, when the two 18-year-old infielders made an immediate impression. Culberson is pretty far along with the glove, and Noonan hit close to .500 in the developmental league. Some coaches feel Noonan has the best strike-zone judgment of any hitter in the system.

Although the Giants would love to move their infield trio through the system together, that's not always practical. Players develop at different rates, and Noonan, who counts Derek Jeter as his role model, could move more quickly.

Noonan's baseball acumen is so off the charts that the Giants even put him on the travel roster for a Cactus League game last week. They might do the same with Villalona later this spring.

"You want the kid to have a good experience and make sure he's ready," Sabean said.

Villalona, who received a franchise-record $2.1 million signing bonus, is the most important undertaking for a farm system that hasn't produced an impact hitter since Matt Williams nearly two decades ago.

Though he signed as a third baseman, Villalona - who is 6-foot-3 and appears well beyond his listed weight of 200 pounds - is working at first base and is expected to play there at Augusta.

"I think I am better at first base," Villalona said with the help of an interpreter. "I feel more comfortable at first base, and they put me there for a reason."

There are some concerns about Villalona's expanding waistline, though Alou calls it "baby fat" and said it's typical for young players to replace it with muscle when they hit their late teens.

For now, Villalona is getting past the initial culture shock and beginning to settle in. He was soft-spoken but comfortable when speaking with a reporter, as Merengue music drifted from the iPhone in his locker.

"I'm learning many things," he said. "I want to get my hands dirty and see what I can do."

While some call him "Baby V" or "Big V," his teammates just call him Villa.

"Villa is just a big kid," Culberson said. "He'll be in the outfield doing cartwheels and the next minute he's hitting bombs."

Said Alou: "When he first got here, the other players were more advanced, in baseball and in life. He wanted to compete with them, and it was difficult. But I tell you, he is competing with them now. A year later, he is competing."

And creating a potential traffic hazard on Hayden Road.

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3/5/2008, 9:03 am Link to this post   
 
timmy4cyyoung Profile
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Re: Augusta in '08


Angel = Pujols type?

How does he hit for average?

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3/5/2008, 9:26 am Link to this post   
 
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I would say he is closer to Prince Fielder than anything else but it's so early you don't know what could happen to the kid.

How he'll hit for average is kind of hard to say. He's still working on recognizing breaking balls and yet to play a full season. After this year we should get a little bit better idea of where he stands as a hitter.

Last edited by philramirez, 3/5/2008, 9:49 am


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3/5/2008, 9:40 am Link to this post   
 
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Re: Augusta in '08


I wouldn't mind a Prince type either...

Sounds like he will be that big physically.

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3/5/2008, 9:46 am Link to this post   
 
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The article failed to address what position he's going to play. This spring I've yet to see him take groundballs at third. He's been at first and looks pretty good.

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3/5/2008, 9:51 am Link to this post   
 
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Re: Augusta in '08


It mentions 1B

Though he signed as a third baseman, Villalona - who is 6-foot-3 and appears well beyond his listed weight of 200 pounds - is working at first base and is expected to play there at Augusta.

"I think I am better at first base," Villalona said with the help of an interpreter. "I feel more comfortable at first base, and they put me there for a reason."

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3/5/2008, 9:54 am Link to this post   
 
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damn, I don't remember reading that. I think it's cause I saw Matt Williams' name and decided it would be best to skip the next couple of lines.

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3/5/2008, 10:01 am Link to this post   
 
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Re: Augusta in '08


 emoticon

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3/5/2008, 10:02 am Link to this post   
 
giantsfan1888 Profile
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Re: …


Phil the article stated that he will be playing 1B at Augusta this year so that is probably why you haven't seen him taking groundballs at third this spring.

Sorry I see you guys beat me to about the article mentioning Villa at 1B. It will definately be fun to watch how the young infield progresses in Augusta this year.

This young infield along with the comeback years of Ishikawa, Martinez-Esteve & Merkin Valdez, the pitching of Alderson & Bumgarner, and the development of Velez & Bowker in Fresno are the things I will look forward to watching this year in the minor leagues.

Last edited by giantsfan1888, 3/5/2008, 10:19 am
3/5/2008, 10:12 am Link to this post   
 
22TheThrill Profile
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Re: …


quote:

giantsfan1888 wrote:

Phil the article stated that he will be playing 1B at Augusta this year so that is probably why you haven't seen him taking groundballs at third this spring.



Yeah, it sounds like the Giants have made up their minds about moving Villalona to first base.


Just sayin'

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Baseball is like church. Many attend but few understand.
Leo Durocher



3/5/2008, 10:22 am Link to this post   
 


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