Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Player Profile: Willians Astudillo

Photo: David M. Scholfield/Lakewood Blue Claws, Asbury Park Press
Willians Astudillo was born in the wrong decade. Back in the 70's or 80's, someone with his skill set would have been fast-tracked through the farm system and slotted into the big league lineup as a #2 hitter, useful in hit-and-run situations on a small ball team. However, in a generation that puts power at premium and walks as a valuable commodity, Astudillo does not stand out at either category and has been overlooked again and again in the Phillies system. His career .085 ISO, 3.9% walk rate, unideal body type, and his lack of a true defensive position have been huge turn-offs in the Phillies chain of minor league promotions. But if there is one thing that Astudillo can do, it is hit, and he has done it to an extreme rate. He has struck out just 51 times over 1,684 career minor league plate appearances, en route to a career .318 batting average. In this post, we will take a look how he has done it.

Taking a quick look at Astudillo's swing, it is evident why he doesn't have much power. He doesn't have tremendous bat speed and the swing isn't too explosive. His swing is mostly upper body and doesn't incorporate the lower half too well. On the other hand, it is very obvious why he makes so much contact. He has plus hand-eye coordination, and he is willing to adapt to each pitch by changing his swing. Sometimes it looks ugly, but it prevents strikeouts, and it has worked so far. This hyper-aggresive approach is also what makes his walk rate so low, but that has been effective thus far in his young career, and with his contact skills I doubt it will be exposed against more advanced pitching.

Defensively, Astudillo began his career as a catcher, with a career 30% caught stealing rate, but he was never too good behind the dish, so they experimented with him at different positions. He is probably best suited for first base, but at 5'9'' he is too small to play there at the big league level. He has played some corner outfield, but the speed limits him there and at third base, his range and athleticism in general is a bit of a problem. Interestingly enough, in the Venezuelan Summer League, he has played quite a bit of second base as well as 40 innings at shortstop. In the MLB, he will probably serve as a backup behind a durable catcher like Salvador Perez, but more of an emergency/third catcher and pinch hitter on most teams that employ a platoon or split playing time more evenly.

Astudillo is easily one of the most fun prospects to follow in all of baseball. In just his second season of full playing time, he hit .314/.348/.384 in 418 at bats with just 10 walks but only 10 strikeouts as well. He is truly the contact extremist, with a possible 60/65 hit tool. Unfortunately, his other tools grade out at 40 at best, with his arm maybe being a 45. He became a minor league free agent at the end of the season, and the Atlanta Braves gladly snatched him up to a minor league deal. Their eagerness may be for naught though, as by signing him to a minor league deal, he will be left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft and another team may take a shot on the bat-to-ball skills. Astudillo's absolute ceiling is something like Jose Altuve without the speed, which would be quite interesting since speed is Altuve's other elite tool and it plays well with the hit tool. Barring an insane occurrence, Astudillo will never be much defensively or on the basepaths, and his offensive ceiling is probably something like .290/.320/.350 which would be very useful as a backup/third catcher who could also play some other positions and be a very effective pinch hitter when you need the ball put in play late in the game with a National League team. This would likely be the best case scenario, but no matter the end result, it will be very fun tracking him throughout his journey through the minor leagues.

Bonus Video: Fittingly, I could not find a video of him hitting a home run, but there is one of him taking a protective swing and lining an RBI double down the left field line.

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