At age 16 in 2007, Angel Villalona was a very highly rated international free agent from the Dominican Republic. He had All-Star potential and was signed by the San Francisco Giants.
The extremely powerful Villalona began his career playing for the Rookie-level Arizona Giants in the summer of 2007. That's where I first saw him.
In his 224 plate appearances under the boiling heat of the Arizona sun, he hit .285. He hit 12 doubles, three triples and five home runs. He drove in 37 runs. He struck out only 42 times, or 18.8 percent of his plate appearances. He made an impact in only 52 games.
He finished the season at Class A Short-Season Salem-Keizer, where he hit .167 in only five games.
His career progressed in the following two seasons, as Villalona played for Class A Augusta (.263/17/64) in 2008 and Class A Advanced San Jose, hitting .267/9/42 in 2009. But he played in only 74 games that year.
In September 2009, Villalona, then 19 years old, was charged with the murder of a 25-year-old man in Villalona's Dominican Republic homeland.
Villalona's life had changed.
Details of the charges and Villalona's subsequent return to the United States to play baseball for the Giants are not germane to this scouting profile. Suffice to say, he's back playing baseball for the team that saw his outstanding offensive potential seven years ago.
With Villalona now 23, I got my next look at the right-handed-hitting prospect in the Arizona Fall League. He's older. And he's still big. Very big. And strong. He's 6-foot-3, 257 pounds, but he looks bigger.
Looks can be deceiving. He certainly is anything but awkward for his size.
Signed as a corner infielder capable of playing both third and first base, I saw Villalona play first base exclusively in Arizona. And he played it very well.
Villalona is far more agile and far more athletic than his body would lead one to believe. He isn't as quick as 6-foot-3, 235-pound Andres (The Big Cat) Galarraga was in his time, but Villalona can move at first base. He has quick feet. He has quick hands. He made all the plays. He surprised me. His reflexes were outstanding.
Villalona returned to the Giants in time to play 44 games in the 2012 season for the club's Dominican Summer League team. He hit .303 with nine doubles and seven home runs. It was a brief return, but it showed he was able to play.
This past season, Villalona was permitted to return to the United States. He played for San Jose and Double-A Richmond. He hit a combined .276 in 518 plate appearances. He hit 22 home runs. He drove in 70 runs. He struck out 136 times.
His experience at the plate in the Arizona Fall League was not as promising. Perhaps he was worn out, both mentally and physically.
Not to make excuses, but it had been a long time since Villalona played more than 70 games.
He hit .200 for the Scottsdale Scorpions with no home runs. He had two doubles among his 13 total hits. He drove in seven runs. He looked rusty, even tired at the plate. His bat was slow. His swing was long. He was pressing.
All that said, I still think Villalona has the potential to offer the Giants a potent bat, a bat that can drive in runs in a big park with gaps that fit his power.
When he was signed as an international prospect, Villalona was a muscular hitter with good bat speed. He could generate backspin and loft on the ball, enough lift to clear any wall in any stadium. I saw it with my own eyes.
At that time, Villalona didn't have great pitch recognition and breaking balls fooled him. He didn't have good plate discipline and pitchers could have their way with him. He was young. Raw.
He is still heavy, especially in the trunk of his body. He will have to get in shape and stay in shape.
"If" is the longest two-letter word in the dictionary.
"If" Angel Villalona dedicates himself to a quicker pass through the ball, a shorter swing and more discipline when seeing sliders and cutters, he can become a force.
"If" Angel Villalona dedicates himself to eye-hand coordination exercises that quicken his reaction time to breaking balls, he can become a force.
"If" Angel Villalona keeps his lower body from getting totally out of control and he gets in shape, he can become a force.
I'm not sure. I'll report back after Spring Training. But I like his chances.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.