The grind of baseball can sometimes sap the joy from the sport. Thus, it’s refreshing when a champion of the people emerges. Such a hero appeared on the scene late in the 2018 season – Twins catcher Willians Astudillo.
The catcher/first baseman hasn’t been viewed as a legitimate prospect since he was a teenager in the Phillies system. Even then, you had to dig deep to find him. Now 27, he’s become a folk hero for his base running, home run antics, and refusal to walk or strike out. Scouts call him bad-bodied. To a layman, it looks like their pudgy local plumber is running around on a field with a bunch of chiseled professionals. Just wait until he bends over…
Considering his ridiculous contact rate, there’s a high floor on his projected output. His .355/.371/.516 from last season overstates the upside, but it’s plausible to think he could hit .325/.350/.475 which works out to something like 20 percent better than a league average hitter. Projection systems are skeptical, but they tend to struggle with unusual players. That all sounds pretty tasty from a catcher-eligible player, right?
Who would you rather watch play?
— Brad Johnson (@BaseballATeam) January 10, 2019
There’s just one enormous problem. Even though we all love to watch him play, a regular role may elude him.
Astudillo is 5′ 9” which makes him a less-than-ideal target at first base. Typically, you want guys who can reach and stretch. Besides, the Twins brought aboard a classic slugger in the form of C.J. Cron. Astudillo could snipe the odd start from him, but he won’t win the job outright.
As a catcher, he’s improved from terrible to passable over the last few seasons. Even so, he’s nobody’s idea of a first string option. The Twins already have a slightly better version of the offense-first backup catcher in the form of Mitch Garver. Their starting catcher, Jason Castro, is known for his defensive prowess. Again, Astudillo could snipe some starts – perhaps serving as somebody’s personal catcher – but this isn’t a full time home for him.
His next best position is third base. He’s blocked by Miguel Sano. Here, Astudillo is hurt by history. He came to the Twins organization as a free piece of minor league filler. Minnesota has invested over $10MM in the development of Sano. They’ll be loathe to give up on a player who still has a chance to turn into a star. Besides, Sano is likely to experience the good kind of regression.
The Twins designated hitter is Nelson Cruz. No need for further discussion here.
All of these situations come with the “barring injury” caveat, and that’s where there is room for hope. Players get hurt, and Astudillo’s semi-utility puts him first in line to take advantage. He’ll have the added benefit of getting just enough action to stay sharp. He should be prepared to step up when an opportunity arrives.
When discussing top prospects, I usually advise fantasy players to ignore the depth chart. If a guy is going to provide fantasy relevant numbers, he’ll probably find his way around any major league roadblocks. This is actually a great way to create value – buy low when others sell because a guy is “blocked.”
In the case of Astudillo, I can’t really justify using this approach. At least not in 12-team mixed formats. Although his production as a catcher-eligible player could be hugely valuable, first he has to crack the lineup. And that’s going to be an uphill battle.
Unlike premium prospects who frequently offer five category upside, Willy Studs only looks like a batting average guy with perhaps just enough power to be a plus because he’s a catcher. The right lineup role could also yield decent run production. He’s highly context dependent.
We’re also very focused on the upside. There’s downside for a lot of weak ground ball outs and generally bland outcomes. Pitchers aren’t going to throw him many strikes in 2019. How he adjusts to that will be important. His 42.8 percent swing rate on pitches outside the strike zone would have rated sixth-worst in the league.
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