Twins fan favorite Astudillo reports to camp
FORT MYERS, Fla.— It was the home run seen around the internet, and you better believe Willians Astudillo heard about it daily from his teammates after it happened.
In January, while playing for his Venezuelan winter league team, Astudillo connected with a pitch, dropped to a knee, set his bat down and rested his elbow on the knob while watching the ball sail out of the park.
As he circled the bases, he enthusiastically pumped and waved his arms while his teammates spilled out of the dugout to greet him at the plate.
It only further endeared him to Twins fans, who fell hard for Astudillo last season. Saturday, Feb. 16, he arrived at Twins camp, delayed a bit by visa issues as he came to Fort Myers from the Dominican Republic.
He was greeted by a media scrum that spilled in front of Jason Castro’s locker, earning himself some friendly razzing from Castro, who reminded him that his nameplate was a couple of lockers over.
While in Venezuela, Astudillo got 234 at-bats, slashing .325/.370/.500 with 10 homers. He said he mostly played left field while there.
“The season was over, I went back to Venezuela and played, keeping myself in shape,” he said. “It felt really good, everything that I went through last year in the second half of the season but now it’s a new year.
“I’m here with my teammates. I’m looking forward to it.”
Last year, Astudillo saw time behind the plate, at second and third base, in the outfield and even, once, on the mound in mop-up time. The Twins expect to keep moving him around this year, too.
“Where don’t we want to see him defensively is the question?” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “...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.”
Astudillo, who endured a lengthy minor league career before cracking the majors for the first time last season, quickly became a point of intrigue. He hit .355/.371/.516 in 29 games while barely striking out or walking. He struck out just three times and walked twice in 97 plate appearances in the majors last season.
“To do the things that he has been asked to do and we’ll continue to ask him to do, I promise you it’s not that simple as just showing up and having a good frame of mind and doing it,” Baldelli said. “It’s challenging and he does it well and on top of that, he’s an extremely interesting offensive player.”
Romero to bullpen
The Twins have been talking internally about moving Fernando Romero to the bullpen for months and Saturday, Baldelli said they’re planning on preparing him for “shorter stints” this spring.
Romero, who was the organization’s top pitching prospect heading into 2018, was a starter throughout his minor league career and made 11 starts with the Twins last season, posting a 4.69 earned-run average across his first 55 2/3 major league innings.
“Fernando we look at as a weapon going forward, and a guy that could fill the role as it was described in shorter stints, as someone we rely on to pitch important innings for us,” Baldelli said. “We see him as the kind of guy, with the mentality and the ability to be really impactful, and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Though the Twins have talked about this for some time, they’ve only recently talked to Romero about it.
“I told him (Baldelli) I’m ready to face the role and I’m ready to pitch as a reliever,” Romero said.
Romero said he’s been working specifically on his slider and his release point this winter.
“There’s always — you’ve got to be working on all of these pitches, but I’ve been focusing on having better command of my four-seam fastball and my slider, too.”
While Romero gets set to start working as a reliever, Baldelli said the Twins will prepare Adalberto Mejia as a starter.
Astudillo wasn’t the only guy to make his first appearance Saturday. Eddie Rosario came in and was sporting a bright blue “Super Rosario” shirt, a play off Super Mario.
Top prospect Royce Lewis wore Batman socks on his first day of big-league camp and Byron Buxton checked in, too, among others.
The Twins will hold their first full-squad workouts Monday.