The Minnesota Twins clubhouse looked like a gathering place for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before Saturday’s game against the Cleveland Indians. The players put on green shirts with “La Tortuga” spelled out in the font from the cartoon series over long-sleeve shirts and other warm gear for the sub-40-degree weather, a reference to Willians Astudillo’s nickname.
Astudillo has gained notoriety in the Twin Cities and around baseball for his willingness to play all over the diamond, and his reluctance to strikeout and draw walks in the three true outcomes era. He’s a stout man on a mission to show that chubby people can run too.
But the Twins view him as an asset because of his ability and willingness to play multiple positions and produce at the plate, placing him on their 25-man roster out of Spring Training this year. Despite playing every position except first, short and right field last year, he’s listed as a catcher — the third on the roster behind Jason Castro and Mitch Garver.
“Well, I consider him a catcher,” said manager Rocco Baldelli when asked about Astudillo participating extensively in catching drills in Fort Myers, “so yeah.”
In 848 career games, including the minors, Astudillo has only caught in 306 games. He was behind the dish 16 of the 29 games he played with the Twins last season. Still, he has maintained his ability to call games, block pitches and throw out runners while not playing the position as frequently as other catching prospects.
“Actually you could say that it’s a pretty impressive thing, the fact that he hasn’t caught as much as other catchers have caught,” said Baldelli.
“That’s not quite normal. When you have guys that are either converting or haven’t spent a ton of time and play more in certain spots than catcher, then behind the plate, generally you run into situations where that person might not be the most defensive catcher.
“He’s actually one of these guys that shows a lot of promise with his receiving, with his throwing and even some improvement with his blocking where he hasn’t spent that time behind the plate, but he already has these skills — it’s pretty impressive.”
Astudillo played six games at third last season, two at second, was the designated hitter three times and played one game at center and left and pitched in relief once. His versatility may still be utilized, especially because Castro is primarily a catcher and Garver spends most of his time behind the dish even though he can play first and in the outfield in a pinch.
Baldelli had Castro catch on Opening Day, then Garver behind the plate on Saturday — even with the day off. With the Twins’ odd schedule, Baldelli is trying to figure out how best to keep all of his catchers engaged and fresh at the beginning of the season. He says multiple things factor in including who is pitching, how often each player has caught and how many at-bats they have had recently.
“One thing with three catchers, we have to find ways and get creative to get these guys in there,” said Baldelli. “Especially with our schedule the way it is with all the off days, if you don’t force the action and get these guys going, get them in there and into the flow, it’s easy to let it not happen.”
Astudillo’s versatility allows him to have a spot on the roster, even with Castro and Garver on the 25 man. But he’s seen as a catcher first, instead of another utility player, so expect to see him receive time behind the plate accordingly.