The Legend of La Tortuga Substantiates

The Legend of La Tortuga Substantiates

In an era where strikeout rates continue to rise, Minnesota Twins rookie Willians Astudillo should buck the trend. A truly rare breed of hitter, Astudillo blends an elite 80-grade Hit Tool to go along with some pop and the ability to play multiple positions. He has played catcher, first base, second base, third base, and all three outfield spots at the major league level while even pitching in a game last season.

Willians “La Tortuga” Astudillo (Tortuga means turtle in Spanish) was such a nondescript signing by the Phillies out of Venezuela back in 2008 that I could not find an official article or amount of money that he signed for. FanGraphs just came out with their 2019 Minnesota Twins top prospect list and ranked Astudillo at #11 in arguably the most underrated farm system in baseball. Despite the fact that he will be turning 28 after the current regular season, he is one of the oldest prospects in baseball. What you see right now is what you get as he has no projection remaining.

Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs said that Astudillo has, “Ended up a passable glove at several of the places minor league managers tried to hide him in his early 20s,” and project his game power out to a fringe-average 45 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system has Astudillo as a 2.4 WAR player each year between 2019 and 2021 and averaging 98 games per season, which comes out to 3.7 WAR in 150 games if given a full time gig. He likely projects as a below average defensive first baseman in the future with the ability to fill in at a few other positions in a pinch. His 5’9 225 lb body does not project out well, but he may be a solid defensive catcher currently. In 2018 between Triple-A and MLB, he combined for +5.6 FRAA at catcher in 55 games, +1 in 2017 in 19 games, and +11.2 in 75 games in 2016 and is a good pitch framer.

He started out his professional baseball career the following year after he was signed and was assigned to the Phils foreign rookie ball squad and hit .250/.306/.314 and struck out only eight times in 210 plate appearances. His 4.8 K% that year would be his highest mark at any level of his career to date and since then has started to produce more at the plate every year in the minor leagues, outside of 2016 with the Braves Triple-A affiliate when he hit .267/.293/.332 and produced a wRC+ that is expected from a backup catcher (79).

Fast-forward to 2019 and Astudillo is now the super utility man for the Minnesota Twins after signing with the team after the 2017 season and has accrued 2,461 plate appearances in his minor league career and has only struck out 81 times, which comes out to a 3.3 K%. Now take a look at Mike Zunino, who played for the Seattle Mariners in 2018 and received 405 plate appearances and struck out a whopping 150 times (37%). I sat here at my computer thinking that Zunino should get together with Astudillo, have a beer together and discuss hitting ideologies to incorporate Zunino’s power with Astudillo’s strikeout-avoidance. But we are not here to discuss how Zunino can morph into one of baseball’s best hitters, so back to La Tortuga.

Astudillo has lit up major league pitching so far in his brief major league career, debuting strongly with the Twins in 2018 (.355/.371/.516 in 97 plate appearances) and continuing his positive contributions (.295/.313/.523) in his first 48 plate appearances in 2019. That is 145 plate appearances of production that is 31% above the league average (131 wRC+), not too shabby of a start to one’s career. He has only struck out four times, for a 2.8 K%. In other words, he has done well on his promise so far to reverse any doubts about turning into, offensively, another Brett Wallace, the “Fat Ichiro”, or Jose Iglesias, another hitter with superb bat-to-ball and contact skills but with no strength whatsoever at the plate. If he continues to never strike out or walk and continue to hit for power, it will be the kind of player profile we may have never seen before.


Featured Photo Credit: The Athletic

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