Giants prospect Villalona delayed by visa problem


Bobby Evans, Giants vice president of baseball operations, says the club is hopeful the concerns of the U.S. Consulate in the Dominican Republic are "short-lived."

"We're hoping we'll be able to get past the delay at some point," Evans said Tuesday. "They cited health reasons and he's on a visa that's really set aside for elite athletes, which is an expectation that he's in a certain level of conditioning that would afford him that opportunity. And they didn't deem him where he should be, and yet we've been working with him the last couple of months and feel like he's awful close, so we're a little disappointed."

Villalona was charged in the September 2009 death of a 25-year-old man at a bar in his Caribbean homeland. He was freed on bond that November after the family of the deceased asked a judge to drop the case. But Villalona was also stripped of his U.S. visa at the time.

Last October, Villalona said he had dropped a lawsuit against the Giants seeking $5 million in damages after the team decided to reinstate him to its farm system. He alleged the Giants kept him on the inactive list even though he had been cleared of homicide charges. Villalona had sought back wages and punitive damages.

Now, he has a locker at Scottsdale Stadium waiting for his spring arrival -- if it happens, that is. Villalona was added to the Giants' 40-man roster in November.

He received a $2.1 million bonus when San Francisco signed him at age 16 in August 2006. It was the biggest bonus the franchise had ever given to an amateur player.

He was considered among the club's top prospects before the 2008 season and was selected for the Futures Game during All-Star festivities that year. San Francisco reportedly outbid the New York Yankees, Mets, Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners for Villalona.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound slugging first baseman had drawn comparisons to Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre and Wily Mo Pena. He played in 74 games for Class-A San Jose in `09, batting .267 with nine home runs and 42 RBIs.

Also Tuesday, ace Tim Lincecum did not throw as planned because he is nursing stiffness in his back. Manager Bruce Bochy doesn't consider it serious.

The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner and projected opening day starter played catch on flat ground on a back field before going inside for treatment. He joins fellow starter and 2011 All-Star Ryan Vogelsong as pitchers with back injuries already early in camp. Vogelsong strained his back lifting weights at home in Pennsylvania on Feb. 7 and isn't likely to throw for up to two weeks. He also spent Sunday night and Monday fighting the stomach flu.

Lincecum should be back on the mound soon.

"General stiffness. It's a pretty normal thing in spring training," Bochy said. "That's how we're looking at it right now. He played a little catch on a back field earlier and we'll see how he's feeling tomorrow. I don't see this being an issue at all. He was pretty stiff. We weren't going to push it."

Position players getting their work in Tuesday -- three days ahead of the first full-squad session -- included slugger Pablo Sandoval and second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who is returning from labrum surgery on his right shoulder and is not expected to be ready until the second week of Cactus League action next month. He also might be used as a designated hitter in some games if the opposing team agrees to that arrangement.

The Giants greatly missed having Sanchez's sure-handed glove helping turn double plays and also his reliable presence high in the batting order.

Sanchez was a key part of the 2010 World Series championship run for San Francisco, which failed to reach the playoffs last fall after finishing second in the NL West to surprising Arizona.

"He's a big part of it -- the No. 2 hitter, also a good defender out there with experience," Bochy said. "He could have softened the blow of losing a guy like Buster (Posey) because he can hit two or three hole or you can put him down in the order a little bit. We missed the bat, there's no getting around it. It caught up with us."

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