Former top prospect Angel Villalona, whose career looked to be over after a 2009 murder charge in the Dominican Republic, had his work visa approved by the U.S. Immigration Service, and the Giants expect him to be at Scottsdale Stadium when position players report Feb. 23.
The Giants have "received the appropriate approval notices" from the U.S. Immigration Service, club vice president Bobby Evans said.
Villalona, 21, has not stepped foot in the U.S. since September 2009, when he was arrested and charged in a barroom shooting that left 25-year-old Mario Felix de Jesus Velete dead in La Romana.
At the time, Villalona was on family leave from Single-A San Jose while rehabbing a quadriceps strain. After nearly two years of incarceration or house arrest, all charges against the slugging prospect were dropped. According to reports in the Dominican, Villalona also settled with the victim's family to prevent a civil suit.
Major League Baseball removed Villalona from its restricted list late last year, and the Giants added him to their 40-man roster to prevent another club from plucking him away in the Rule 5 draft. All players on the 40-man roster receive automatic invitations to big league camp in the spring.
Villalona already has a flight booked to the U.S., Evans said. But the club hasn't yet received confirmation that Villalona has gone through the final step in the process to take possession of the visa. That process involves a face-to-face interview, an identity check and proof of travel documents.
"We're nearly to the end of the process," Evans said. "We participate and assist in that process, but we don't control it. Our expectation is that he will report on time."
Villalona was just 16 when the Giants signed him for a $2.1 million bonus, which smashed the franchise record for an international free agent. He's considered a premier, power-hitting first baseman and has been working out at the Giants' complex in the Dominican. According to scouting reports, he still has plenty of the bat speed that made him a standout talent as a teenager.
Villalona is not a candidate to make the Giants' opening-day roster, but there's a good chance he will be assigned to Single-A San Jose at some point this season.
Contact Andrew Baggarly at firstname.lastname@example.org.