FORT MYERS, Fla. — It’s been a few years since Willians Astudillo first burst onto the scene, quickly achieving cult hero status among Twins fans.
Days after belting a walk-off home run in September 2018, the utility man endeared himself to fans by sprinting from first to home to score on a Max Kepler double, losing his helmet to reveal flowing, curly locks along the way and saying after the game that he just wanted to “show that chubby people also run,” a comment that found its way onto T-shirts.
Some of the novelty of “La Tortuga” has worn off, to be sure, but Astudillo doesn’t seem to mind. What’s most important to him is going out there and taking care of his job, for himself and for his teammates. And right now, that means using his versatility to earn a spot on the Twins’ bench.
“I’m not expecting the crowd and T-shirts and all that stuff that happened when I first came up,” Astudillo said. “All that is cool, but it’s more important for me to go out there and help my teammates.”
Astudillo’s versatility can help him do that. On top of Astudillo being a third catching option behind Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers, the Twins can slot him in at a corner infield position or even at a corner outfield spot.
Best part is, he says he feels comfortable at all of those places.
“My mind-set is really simple: I just try to prepare myself for whatever the day brings, whatever position (manager) Rocco (Baldelli) needs me,” he said. “I’m going to try to do my best to be 100 percent and give my 100 percent to help the Twins win. That’s my mentality, and that’s what I’ve been doing this spring training, and that’s what I’m going to do moving forward.”
Astudillo, also known for his contact ability at the plate, has had a nice spring offensively, entering Friday with a .355 batting average, .394 on-base percentage and .677 slugging percentage and two home runs in 11 games. And he would appear to have a leg up on a roster spot.
The Twins still have not made their final roster decisions public. They clarified the left field picture this week by optioning top prospect Alex Kirilloff. One of Brent Rooker or Kyle Garlick seem likely to make the team, joining Jake Cave as options for left field, as well as potentially Luis Arraez from time to time.
Arraez will slot into the Marwin Gonzalez-type multi-positional everyday player role, and one spot will go to a catcher — the Twins have said Garver and Jeffers will be “two regular catchers.”
Should they go with a four-man bench, that would leave one spot. The Twins already have optioned two other infielders on the 40-man roster, Nick Gordon and Travis Blankenhorn, to the minors, though they have a handful of non-roster invitees still in camp, among them JT Riddle and Tzu-Wei Lin, both of whom they would need to clear space for on the 40-man roster.
While they could go with five outfielders or add another pitcher, Astudillo hopes his skillset makes him indispensable.
“He’s always ready and he does not lack confidence,” Baldelli said earlier this spring. “And there’s a reason why — it’s not false bravado, it’s legitimate. He can go out there and he has good hands and he can make plays wherever we put him. We could see him all over the field, so I feel very comfortable regardless of where we start him.”