Willians Astudillo quickly became a fan favorite at Target Field last season for his enthusiastic sprint around the bases and good numbers in a small sample size. But nobody quite knows what to make of Astudillo’s future, leading to our questions of the week: Does he deserve to be on the Twins’ 25-man roster when the regular season begins, and do you think he will be?
First take: Michael Rand
Astudillo absolutely belongs on the 25-man roster. He hit .355 with an .887 OPS in 97 plate appearances with the Twins and proved that his minor league contact rate was no fluke by striking out just twice.
He followed up with a dominant winter showing in Venezuela, finishing second in the league MVP voting (to Delmon Young, by the way!).
Even if you aren’t sold on his ability as a catcher — more on that in a minute — there should be a role for someone like that.
Twins writer La Velle E. Neal III: Willians, Willians, Willians. Everyone wants them some Willians. I think Patrick Reusse has an out-of-body experience when watching Astudillo, imagining that’s what he would look like if he played baseball.
Look, I see a path in which Astudillo makes the team. You have one backup catcher, Ehire Adrianza as the infield backup, then Jake Cave as the fourth outfielder. That leaves one spot open on a four-man bench. Astudillo, who can catch, play some third and be an emergency outfielder, could claim that role while being an intriguing pinch-hitting option. The man makes contact and doesn’t waste time doing it. Rob Manfred might order the Twins to keep him around to help speed up games.
The wild card in this is Ronald Torreyes, signed just before the winter meetings. Torreyes could end up as the 25th man as an extra infielder. Personally, I would give him a shot.
Rand: But why can’t Astudillo be the No. 2 catcher in addition to those utility roles? Pitchers last season seemed to like throwing to him in limited duty, and he graded out as an average pitch-framer — much better than Mitch Garver — according to statcorner.com. He even threw out three of nine would-be base-stealers last year, a reasonable average.
If you look at his body of work — and not just his body — you see a viable candidate for a bigger role.
Neal: Jason Castro is entering the final year of his three-year, $24-million deal. Mr. Pitch Framer will return after knee surgery wrecked his 2018 season. He doesn’t provide much offense but is a good catcher (although I suspect his high number of passed balls is from trying to be too “framey”).
Garver is the No. 1 catcher-in-training. He got out of his own head last year and made some strides behind the plate while batting .268 with seven homers and 45 RBI in 102 games.
The Twins seem committed to developing Garver to be the full-time guy in 2020. I just don’t see Willians forcing them to change their plans just yet. You might be a year too early in beating the “Willians for No. 2” drum. A bigger role for him is making the team out of camp.
Rand: But he’s lovable and productive! I want a statue! Or at least a bobblehead. Fine, I’ll settle for a roster spot.
Final world: Neal
You just might get one of those in 2019. Maybe two of them by 2020!
More Rand: startribune.com/RandBall
More North Score: startribune.com/NorthScore