The Minnesota Twins signed one of Minor League Baseball’s most popular players to a 2018 contract. Who exactly is he?
Who is he?
Willians Astudillo was originally signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008 out of Venezuela. He was not a major signing, and spent three seasons with the Phillies Venezuelan Summer League team (when there still was a VSL) before coming stateside in 2012.
However, after that 2012 season in the Gulf Coast League, Astudillo required Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2013 season – and that’s when he became somewhat of a cult legend in minor league baseball.
Astudillo was never an elite defensive catcher, but he did have a strong arm behind the plate before the surgery, such that he was used frequently at third base when he wasn’t catching. However, after the surgery, he spent most of his time between catcher and first base.
Therein lies some of the humor as Astudillo stands only 5’9″ and weighs in at a listed 225 pounds (though he’s frequently tipped the scales at more than that listing). For a 5’9″ guy to play first base is quite humorous, and even moreso with his physical build.
Astudillo is certainly not unathletic, however, as he can still handle the outfield and is still known as an excellent framer and blocker behind the plate, even if his arm is not going to prevent much in the run game as a catcher anymore.
All the defensive oddities taken into consideration, Astudillo is known in the minor leagues not for his appearance at any position on the field as amusing as that may be. No, his main claim to fame is an incredible contact rate at the plate. He has totaled just 142 walks and strikeouts COMBINED over 2,154 minor league plate appearances. That means in over 93% of his plate appearances, he has made contact with the ball.
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So rare is it for Astudillo to walk or strike out that he has gone an entire calendar year without striking out once from 2015-2016 between the Phillies and Braves organizations. His career strikeout rate is a paltry 3.1%.
Astudillo has been reporting that he is feeling better in his arm when not behind the plate lately, and he is still just 25 years old, so he could find some time with the Twins in AAA Rochester behind the plate as well as at the corners of the infield and in left field.
This winter, Astudillo is playing in winter ball in his native Venezuela, and he has primarily played left field during the winter, currently hitting .312/.356/.435 after a huge night on Tuesday night, where he hit 2 home runs and drove in 4. True to form, on the season he has just 9 walks and 4 strikeouts in 186 at bats.
Fans in Rochester will certainly enjoy the Minnesota Twins employing Astudillo this season, and if you have a chance to catch him on Milb.tv, I would strongly suggest it as there is little as entertaining as watching Willians hustle out a ground ball!
He’s also got an incredible ability to laugh at himself and is a great teammate. People in the Atlanta organization still talk about Willians from one season in the organization and how impressed they were with him as a person.