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Unheralded Astudillo on rise in Phils' system

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies believe they have a good number of prospects lower in their Minor League system. Their Florida State League affiliate, the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers, is in the running for the league championship despite having touted youngsters like shortstop J.P. Crawford and catcher Andrew Knapp promoted early in the season.

Willians Astudillo's name doesn't appear on any of the lists of most promising youngsters in the system. You will find him, however, at the very top of the list of FSL batting leaders. Astudillo is hitting .324 and is a runaway leader for the title. And that isn't the only stat that makes the 23-year-old stand out.

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In 374 at bats, Astudillo has struck out just 10 times. Which doesn't mean that the Venezuelan native only swings at pitches in the strike zone. He's been walked unintentionally only eight times all season.

"You're talking about one of the more interesting hitters, probably, in all of the Minor Leagues," Threshers manager Greg Legg said. "He barrels up balls over and over again. He does have a lot of early contact, but he also gets a lot of two-strike hits.

"He has the ability to handle the bat and hit it wherever he wants. The bat control that he has and the eye-hand coordination is off the charts. He manipulates the ball. I never played back in the Ty Cobb era, but I can only imagine those are the types of things he was able to do."

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Legg, who managed Astudillo at Class A Lakewood in 2014, only remembers Astudillo breaking one bat all season while batting .333.

There are probably a couple reasons why Astudillo tends to be overlooked. He is short and squat, generously listed at 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds. He doesn't hit for much power. Astudillo will turn 24 in October. Perhaps most significant, he doesn't have a natural position.

Still, in an era where pitching is dominant at the Major League level and all teams are scrambling to find bats, Astudillo is at least a player who bears watching.

Astudillo catches for the Threshers these days. He's also played first base and left field.

"He can catch," Legg said. "His hands are soft. He blocks balls and he has a feel for calling games."

"Everybody in baseball is looking for a guy who has a cannon for an arm and is picking everybody off and you have no chance to run. He doesn't do that. But the two years I've had him, whenever something's been needed to be addressed, if he decides he wants to do it, he's capable of doing it. So in my mind, he's capable of improving his arm strength and his times to second. He's really caught well in the second half when we needed him to."

Astudillo, through teammate Jesmuel Valentin, said he sees himself as a catcher.

"Because of my mindset and maturity talking to the pitchers," Astudillo said. "I know how to control the game and everything."

Lack of power? Legg said Astudillo is improving.

"We've tried to get him to drive more balls early in the count, and he's had more hard contact this year than last," Legg said. "It's fun to watch him hit. He just gets it done."

Too old? Astudillo has hit everywhere he's been, including .361 in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2011. He said putting the bat on the ball is a God-given talent for him and that he takes pride in putting the ball in play.

"I just go to home plate really confident," Astudillo said. "I don't think about much. I'm just thinking about seeing a good pitch to hit and going after it with the best swing I've got.

"[Not striking out is] a really big priority for me. I put a lot of emphasis on that, because if I put the ball in play, a lot of things can happen. I'm a good contact hitter, and if you put the ball in play, I can get a lot of hits."

Another attribute that numbers don't measure: Astudillo helps keep the team loose with his lively personality.

"He always has a joke," Valentin said. "If there's any kind of music -- it doesn't matter if it's Mexican, hip-hop, country -- he just finds a way to sing or dance or make everybody laugh.

"Having him as a teammate is really good. Every single time we're here and having a bad time or a rough time, there's no way you're going to have a bad day in the clubhouse having him around."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for
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