Rick Ragazzo has been with the Giants organization for 17 years, and has been involved with its international program for more than a decade, serving as international scouting director most of that time.
He was involved in 2000 when the Giants signed Francisco Liriano for $900,000, which stood as the largest bonus the organization had given any international signing over the past six years.
Until this weekend, when the Giants forked over a reported $2.1 million for third baseman Angel Villalona (whose name had been incorrectly reported earlier by Baseball America). Ragazzo said the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Villalona has the highest ceiling of any player the Giants have signed out of Latin America since Liriano. The deal is the largest for any international signing since Joel Guzman signed with the Dodgers for $2.25 million in 2001.
“We felt he was the premium free agent in Latin America this year,” Ragazzo said. “We saw a lot of guys, and we liked a lot of guys. (Miguel) Montero, the guy the Yankees signed (for $2 million), has a special bat. Esmailyn Gonzalez (signed by the Nationals for $1.4 million) has athleticism and that enthusiasm for the game that is so appealing. But we felt Villalona was the best guy available.
“We saw him for the first time when he was 13, and even then he had power. That was attractive off the bat. He has athletic ability, and he profiles’"he has a chance to be a third baseman with power, with good hands, good rhythm in his swing, a smooth swing, a pure swing from the right side. He’s got skills, he’s agile, he’s coordinated and can run some for a big man.”
Villalona’s bonus is the largest the Giants ever have given to an amateur and tops even the amount they gave the No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft, Washington’s Tim Lincecum. Lincecum received $2.025 million; Cuban defector Osvaldo Fernandez held the previous Giants record for the largest international deal, getting $1.3 million back in 1996.
“If he turned 17 and went to the draft next year, that’s what he would get,” general manager Brian Sabean told BA correspondent Andy Baggarly of the Oakland Tribune. “In our minds, we signed an extra first-round pick.
Villalona just turned 16 on Aug. 13, signing his contract within days of becoming eligible. If he were an American, would just be entering his junior year in high school. Instead, Villalona is getting ready to go to instructional league. Ragazzo said that will be the first organized team Villalona will have played for, but the Giants have seen enough of him to believe he was worth a bonus that dwarfs Ragazzo’s usual annual signing budget.
“We haven’t had full access to him since he was 13, but we have seen him a lot,” Ragazzo said. “We’ve accumulated a lot of information on him . . . He’s only 16 and you never know what will happen. But we’ve seen him in workouts and simulated games in our academy, and we’ve seen him hit, and we’ve seen him fail.
“The difference with ‘Big V’ is, we’ve seen him compete and fail, and get right back up. This is a player who knew he was getting some big money this year, and he still did that. To me, the guys who fail but overcome that and still succeed, those are the guys who become major leaguers. We’ve seen that inner strength, but we also understand he’s 16. We really can’t know what the effect of the money will be.”
The deal was officially announced Saturday after rumblings late in the week, with ESPNdeportes.com first reporting the signing. Several reports said the Mariners, Yankees, Mets and Red Sox were also heavily involved in bidding for Villalona, with one club bidding $3 million. Ragazzo credited the organization’s scouts in the Dominican, headed by former Dodgers scout Pablo Peguero, with having the relationship with Villalona that made the player want to sign with the Giants.
“The player pursued us,” Ragazzo said, “and the family confirmed the signing.”
While agent Scott Boras had intimated earlier this summer that Villalona was a client of the Boras Corporation, Ragazzo said only that the player’s family represented him. “You’ll have to ask the kid who represents him,” Ragazzo said.