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Villalona making good impression

Villalona making good impression

NEW YORK -- As far as first impressions go, you can't do much better than what Angel Villalona did Sunday morning before the 2008 XM All-Star Futures Game.

With his first swing after jumping into the batting cage at Yankee Stadium like the enthusiastic teenager he is, the man-child pounded a batting-practice fastball over the wall in dead center field.

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As the ball sailed over the 408-foot sign, Villalona, 17, smiled ever so slightly in acknowledgement of his hooting World Team teammates.

Moments later, with sweat dripping down his chin, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound corner infielder from the Dominican Republic stepped out of the cage -- and into the spotlight. Several reporters were waiting to speak with the Giants' top prospect, and he happily obliged every one.

"This makes me very happy," he said through an interpreter. "Very satisfied."

With the impressive BP blast, or with simply being on the Yankee Stadium stage?

"Both," Villalona said, his smile now ear-to-ear. "All of it. I feel very proud to be here and it's great motivation to keep working."

The youngest player selected for Sunday's showcase of the game's top young talent, Villalona, a right-handed hitter, was signed by the Giants last August as an amateur free agent and received a club-record $2.1 million bonus. Assigned to San Francisco's team in the Arizona Rookie League, he immediately started justifying the franchise's financial faith.

"He's been everything we hoped he'd be," said Giants director of player personnel Bobby Evans. "He's obviously got a way to go, being as young as he is, but he's already a pretty advanced player."

After batting .285 (57-for-200) with five homers, two triples, 12 doubles and a .344 on-base percentage in the ARL, Villalona was rated by Baseball America as the Giants' top prospect entering the 2008 season. And while some of his numbers thus far at low Class A Augusta don't jump off the page -- he batted .241 with a .296 on-base percentage in his first 80 games -- the ball still jumps off his bat.

His 10 homers, 18 doubles and 38 RBIs for the Green Jackets represent the type of production the Giants hope to see at the big league level within a few years. For now, the organization plans to let him spend the rest of 2008 in Augusta and have him start the 2009 season at high Class A San Jose.

"He's pretty tough on himself; he's a perfectionist. And you certainly don't want to rush a 17-year-old," Evans said. "But he does have tremendous power potential, and we definitely see him as a middle-of-the-order guy in the Major Leagues some day."

As for where Villalona will be playing on defense should he deliver on his high-ceiling promise, Evans said the Giants are leaning toward first base. Signed as a third baseman, Villalona still takes ground balls at the hot corner every day, but he sees most of his game work on the other side of the diamond.

"I've made a lot of progress," said Villalona, who entered Sunday's game at first base in the bottom of the fifth and went 0-for-2. "But I still need to work on my fielding, and on keeping my body in good shape."

Villalona, whose body type Evans likens to that of a young Andres Galarraga, said he has no preference where he plays.

"I don't decide that," he said, again slipping into a smile. "Wherever I have a chance to make it to the Major Leagues, that's where I want to play."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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