Lost in all of the talk about the Cleveland Indians potential rotation fire-sale and the young White Sox’s will-they-won’t-they romance with Manny Machado, has been the shockingly good off season put together by the Minnesota Twins. Competence and consistency hasn’t exactly been the name of the game for the Twins in the past few seasons; in 2016 they finished as baseball’s worst team, followed by a playoff season in 2017, and then a middle of the pack season in 2018. But the moves they made this winter have been really good and could provide them with enough of a lift to unseat Cleveland atop the division if everyone can play up to their potential.
I briefly thought of naming wily and well-traveled veteran Nelson Cruz the nod here, but seeing as he is a model of consistency with the bat in his hands a new scenery likely won’t yield too crazy of a difference. The exciting double-play pairing of Jonathan Schoop and Jorge Polanco could yield some surprises, as could super-slugger Miguel Sano or young ace Jose Berrios. But in truth there’s one enormous wildcard on the Twins roster who could very well be poised for a break out campaign that nobody in baseball will see coming.
Willians Astudillo is my new favorite baseball player and he absolutely should be yours too. If you’re wondering why, well how about the fact that last year he got the call up to the big leagues after spending 9 full seasons toiling away in various minor league systems. He’s the perennial minor league guy, and someone many thought would never get the call up to the bigs. He lacks any noticeable strengths at the plate, but his calling card is the oldest adage in the game…just put the ball in play. Remember that thing that your little league coach used to yell at you when you were 11, that’s what Astudillo does literally better than anyone on the planet. If you compile all of his minor league at bats from nearly a decade of play (nearly 2,500 plate appearances), he struck out only 3.3% of the time and walked only 3.5%. It’s almost a guarantee when Astudillo walks up to the plate that he is going to put the ball in play and something is going to happen. Also…there’s the home run celebration to end all home run celebrations. The Twins’ prospect (I feel weird calling a 27 year old a prospect) blasted a 7th inning home run in a Venezuelan League game this winter and took a knee in the batters box to watch it land before trotting around the bases; proving that contact and charisma are his calling-cards.
Astudillo is a natural Catcher, a position that has been a point of weakness for the Twins since Joe Mauer prolonged his career by moving to first base. Additionally he has slotted in at both corner infield spots and both corner outfield spots since turning pro. If that isn’t utility, than I’m not sure what is. The Twins will likely use him as their everyday backstop in 2019 unless they can facilitate a trade with the Marlins for JT Realmuto. Even if Astudillo doesn’t see his name in the lineup on Opening Day we will see him get tons of playing time due to his versatility.
If you still aren’t sold, here are a couple more fun facts about Astudillo:
- His nickname is ‘Baby Bartolo’, a nod to his big gut and bigger personality
- He picked off a runner at first from home without looking
- He pitched an inning for the Twins during a blowout
- Scored from second on a hit in the fourth inning and told a reporter after the game that his hustle will go down as the stuff of Minnesota legend