What Is Willians Astudillo's Role Going Forward?

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan (USA TODAY Sports)

Byron Buxton’s return had a negative consequence for a player who has endeared himself to Twins Territory. While the Minnesota Twins were getting back their center fielder, who put up MVP numbers in the first month of the season before injuring his hip, Buxton’s return meant that Willians Astudillo was optioned to make room on the active roster. Pour a Mich Golden out for La Tortuga, because I’m unsure of his role on the team going forward.

Astudillo has warmed the hearts of fans since 2018. While Astudillo brings positional versatility and a flair for showmanship, the move signaled a grim reality. Now that the Twins’ season has taken a turn for the worse, it may be more beneficial to play other players with more potential or trade value during the weeks leading up to the trade deadline.

Before you get upset, let’s take a look at Astudillo’s career. He made his major league debut on a sweltering day at Wrigley Field as the Twins faded out of contention in 2018. Astudillo went crazy, hitting .355/.371/.516 with three homers and 21 RBI in 29 games while also providing the hustle and charisma that charmed a disenchanted fanbase.

But when nearly the entire Twins lineup had career years in 2019, Astudillo regressed. In 58 games, Astudillo hit .268/.299/.379 with four homers and 21 RBI, drawing just five walks in 204 plate appearances. After being limited to just eight games last year, Astudillo made the Opening Day roster this season and earned an increasing amount of playing time as injuries ravaged the team.

Astudillo looks stretched now that he’s receiving regular major league at-bats. He’s hitting .254/.276/.385 with four homers and 12 RBI this season. He owns an 85 OPS+ on the season. Astudillo has proven to be a below-average hitter who is not generating offense for a depleted lineup.

The issue here is that you know exactly what you’re getting in an Astudillo at-bat. He has swung at the first pitch in 71 of his career 444 plate appearances. While he has posted a .304 average on those appearances, he hasn’t done much damage with a .464 slugging and .774 OPS.

Perhaps this is a good strategy against pitchers who haven’t seen him before. He’s a .301 career hitter in the opening month of the season, but his OPS drops as pitchers get acclimated to him. With an OPS that plummets below .600 in May, June, and July, Astudillo has turned into a black hole in the Twins’ lineup. He’s one reason why they can’t score without hitting a home run.

The problem is magnified when there are runners on base. Astudillo has hit .272/.276/.368 with a .645 OPS with runners in scoring position in his career. While his ambush approach prevents him from striking out, his poor pitch selection has resulted in five double plays in 123 career plate appearances in RISP situations.

This season he’s hit .188/.206/.219 with runners in scoring position for a .425 OPS. With three GIDPs in 34 plate appearances, Astudillo has become a rally killer and a liability in the lineup.

This could be considered a minor price to pay with Astudillo’s versatility in the field, but he doesn’t bring much there either. On the season, Astudillo has logged a negative UZR/150 rating in the outfield (-18.7), second base (-58.6), and third base (-6.6), with his only positive rating coming in 114.2 innings at first base (2.7).

While replacing Astudillo with another player helps the defense, it also helps the Twins properly evaluate what they have in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline.

Nick Gordon was the fifth-overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft and is starting to carve out a role as a utility player in the major leagues. By playing Gordon, the Twins can find out if his hot start (.321/.341/.425) is sustainable.

The same goes for Ryan Jeffers, who has slugged .596 since being recalled from St. Paul on June 2. With more at-bats, Jeffers can make his case for being Minnesota’s catcher of the future and help the team figure out what to do with Mitch Garver.

Garver is another player to potentially showcase for a trade. If the Twins feel like Gordon, Jeffers, or any of their everyday players are expendable, they can point to their performance over the next six weeks as a selling point.

While it may be a letdown to see Astudillo sent down, it’s what’s best for the team right now. The good news is, while in past years a demotion to Triple-A meant a trip to Rochester, N.Y., this year La Tortuga’s fans can make the trip across the river and watch him play for the Saints. If his previous performance in Triple-A is an indicator, they could be in for a treat as Astudillo hit .423/.446/.623 during an 18-game stint for the Red Wings in 2019.

It’s a tough time for Twins fans, just like it was in 2018 when Astudillo debuted. With the season lost and few of their favorite players off the roster, it’s hard to find optimism as the Twins head into the summer months. But La Tortuga’s supporters can take solace in a short drive to see their hero in action.

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