The world's top-ranked test side lost a four-match series in India 3-0 last week when it failed to score more than 214 in a single innings, leading the selectors to return to a policy of picking seven specialist batsmen.
As a result, De Villiers was named as wicketkeeper on Thursday, with wicketkeeper-batsmen Quinton de Kock and Dane Vilas selected for the South Africa A side that will face England in its second and final warm-up match.
While Temba Bavuma showed admirable grit when he opened the batting in the final test against India, Cricket South Africa confirmed Stiaan van Zyl would open with Dean Elgar against England, and Bavuma would return to a more familiar role in the middle order.
"One of the issues that concerned us during the tour to India was the lack of depth to our batting, particularly in the lower order, and the change in AB's role means that we can now have a specialist batsman at No. 7," Linda Zondi, convenor of selectors, said.
"We now feel that the side has a much better balance about it without in any way reducing the tactical options available to our captain, Hashim Amla."
Fast bowler Dale Steyn was named in the 13-man squad, suggesting he could overcome the groin injury that kept him out of the last three tests in India, but Vernon Philander will miss the first two tests after tearing ankle ligaments in India.
Simon Harmer and Imran Tahir were left out of the squad as Dane Piedt was picked as the only specialist spinner, while uncapped batsman Rilee Rossouw was called up.
The series gets underway in Durban on Dec. 26, ahead of further tests in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Centurion.
South Africa: Hashim Amla (captain), AB de Villiers, Kyle Abbott, Temba Bavuma, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Morne Morkel, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl.
South Africa A: Stephen Cook, Reeza Hendricks, Rilee Rossouw, Quinton de Kock, Omphile Ramela, Khaya Zondo, Dane Vilas (captain), Wayne Parnell, Keshav Maharaj, Chris Morris, Marchant de Lange.