FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Willians Astudillo was late getting to Spring Training for the second straight year due to visa issues, but as he tends to do, manager Rocco Baldelli said Astudillo unwittingly stole the show upon his arrival in the clubhouse Saturday."Somehow, I don't know how it happened, but
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Willians Astudillo was late getting to Spring Training for the second straight year due to visa issues, but as he tends to do, manager Rocco Baldelli said Astudillo unwittingly stole the show upon his arrival in the clubhouse Saturday.
"Somehow, I don't know how it happened, but we ended up in our meeting this morning having more fun talking more about Willians than, again, any other player here," Baldelli said. "So, carrying through the offseason and into Spring Training, he, once again, did not disappoint."
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Astudillo had a busy and productive offseason, finishing as the runner-up in the Venezuelan Winter League's Most Valuable Player Award voting, going viral for his celebration of a go-ahead home run in the league's playoffs and cutting his mass of curly, springy hair.
Having not been with the Twins' organization last season, Baldelli spoke eagerly about the chance to work with Astudillo and his unique skill set. The Twins aren't trying to change him -- they just want him to be Astudillo.
The 27-year-old's noted ability to put the ball in play has emerged as a sharp outlier in a game increasingly defined by the "three true outcomes" (walks, home runs and strikeouts). In 97 plate appearances with the Twins last season, Astudillo walked twice and struck out three times. In his nine-year Minor League career, he never walked or struck out more than 20 times in a season.
"When he decides he's going to swing at a ball, and he thinks he can do something with the pitch, he has such a unique ability to catch the ball somewhere on or near the barrel," Baldelli said. "The at-bats end. Other people foul pitches off and their at-bats just keep going ... [Astudillo] does not have that."
Baldelli thinks that if Astudillo were to swing and miss more, he might walk more, but coaching staffs aren't going to ask a player to whiff more, and his skill set just isn't suited for it. So the Twins aren't looking to change his approach at the plate to facilitate more walks.
"This is a guy that's been a successful hitter to this point," Baldelli said. "Like I said, his winter was exceptional. We want him to just continue to progress and continue to do as a whole what he's doing."
As Astudillo only met Baldelli for the first time around 20 minutes before he spoke with media, the super-utility man didn't know what the Twins' defensive expectations would be for him this year. Even though Astudillo doesn't think he'll show off his center-field highlights to Baldelli, as he did for manager Paul Molitor last season, his new manager is eager to see the versatility for himself.
"Where don't we want to see him defensively, is the question," Baldelli said. "We are going to move him around. We're going to give him opportunities to show us what he can do. I think in addition to us thinking he can do it, I think that's what he wants. We know it's going to be fun to watch it happen."
Everything happened quickly for Astudillo last season -- having to work harder in Spring Training to get in shape, getting his first opportunity to play in the Major Leagues, and the heaps of attention that accompanied not only his .355/.371/.516 batting line in 29 games last season, but also his widely publicized antics on and off the diamond.
"Those are things that you don't really expect," Astudillo said. "Last year, being called up, everything happened so fast. I was able to assimilate in the second half of the season last year, and like I said before, this is a new year, and I'm here to work hard."
Last spring, as a late arrival, Astudillo was a depth catcher on a Minor League contract. This spring, though he's behind Jason Castro and Mitch Garver on the catching depth chart, Astudillo is expected to be a part of the team's Major League plans.
"[The offseason] felt really good after everything I went through last year in the second half of the season," he said. "But now, this is a new year, I'm here with my teammates. I'm looking forward to it and to have fun and see what happens."
Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.