KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Rookie catcher Willians Astudillo spent nearly 10 years in the minor leagues, playing with four organizations, before getting a big-league shot with the Twins this season, just a few months before turning 27.
Why did it take nearly 3,000 plate appearances in the minors between Venezuela and the majors? Aided by club interpreter Elvis Hernandez in an interview Saturday afternoon, Astudillo did not speculate as to what took so long.
"Look, I honestly don't know," he said. "I've played hard my whole life. I'm just happy this team gave me an opportunity, and I'm trying to take advantage for them."
Back in the lineup against the Royals a day after going 3 for 4 with a walk and two solid plays on defense, Astudillo came in hitting .314 with a .340 on-base percentage and .529 slugging percentage. He has three home runs, including a walk-off shot, and a .216 isolated power average. It's barely 50 plate appearances and about 100 innings on defense, but Astudillo doesn't appear overwhelmed by the majors.
Astudillo came to the Twins with a good reputation for pitch framing, and Twins manager Paul Molitor said Astudillo's overall defense behind the plate has been a pleasant surprise. He isn't ready to hand Astudillo a permanent roster spot, but Molitor says the early results are impressive.
"He's shown that he has some value to the team, depth and things that he can do in his versatility," Molitor said. "Trying to figure out how it would look next year is a little premature. Guys love him. He's always in the mix somewhere with his teammates. You've got to be able to help your teammates, and he's shown that he can do some things.
"He's doing good, and the entertainment is a bonus."
Teammate Joe Mauer, himself a former catcher, appreciates the athleticism Astudillo has shown all over the diamond. Mauer especially liked the diving play he made on a bunt attempt to record an out Friday night, even though Astudillo hit the ground hard with a face plant after avoiding a collision with pitcher Jose Berrios.
"I know it didn't look very well, but he got the job done and it was a tough play," Mauer said.
Astudillo said he wasn't any worse for wear after making a thud.
"I'm a fighter," Astudillo said. "I hit pretty hard on the ground, but it's all good."
Molitor added, laughing, "He showed that vertical and pulled it in."
Listed at 5 feet 9 and 225 pounds with long curly hair, Astudillo was a curiosity because of his atypical appearance. Integrating his looks, Astudillo has treated teammates and fans with an epic sprint around the bases that went viral online, plenty of big hacks at the plate (the walk he drew Friday was his first in the majors) and hijinks in the dugout. He even pitched an inning during a blowout.
And amid the strong play: many laughs.
"Personally the way I am, I like to have fun," Astudillo said. "Yeah, I'm working, and I respect that side of things. I'm just having fun as well."
His sense of humor served Astudillo went on his long trek in the minors.
Into his early 20s with the Phillies, Astudillo had hit for a decent average but showed little power. He didn't start to show extra-base prowess until 2017, playing for the D-backs at Triple-A Reno, in a notoriously hitter-friendly environment. He also had surgery to repair a broken hamate bone in his wrist that year, Astudillo said.
Astudillo says he hasn't fiddled with the launch angle in his swing in search of more fly balls. He's just trying to show power gap to gap, and he's getting better results.
"It's not like he's a big-time power threat, but I think he's learned he can drive the baseball to the pull side if the pitch is in his wheelhouse," Molitor said. "It's one of those things he can bring to the table once in a while."
Catcher Mitch Garver is still showing concussion symptoms and was sent to the team hotel the past two nights to protect him from bright lights and loud noises at the ballpark, Molitor said.
Garver was hit in the face mask Wednesday and reported waking up with a headache the next day. After hitting in the cage Thursday, Molitor said, Garver felt dizzy and lightheaded. The Twins are reporting Garver's condition to the league in accordance with concussion protocol.