Check out the home run above. Courtesy of the amazing Willians Astudillo, we already have the best home run highlight of 2019. It came in Venezuela, and it defies description. I think the only way it could be topped is if Yasiel Puig hits a walk-off home run in Game 7 of the World Series, but that would mean the Reds getting to the World Series, which seems unlikely.
Astudillo made his big league debut last season with the Minnesota Twins and in 29 games hit .355 with two home runs. But if you remember anything about Astudillo, it's probably this highlight of him running the bases:
Size doesn't measure speed. pic.twitter.com/r13jphlD9j— MLB (@MLB) September 13, 2018
With his nontraditional physique and hair flying behind him like he's poking his head out of a 747, Astudillo became an immediate cult hero. There's even a five-minute highlight video of his 2018 exploits on YouTube. For example:
Here he is picking Shane Robinson off first base in a spring training game with a no-look throw:
Here he is pulling off the hidden ball trick while playing for Rochester:
Here he's petting a fake horse. Yes, a fake horse. Just watch the video and pay close attention:
There was also this face-plant that led to teammate Jose Berrios throwing sunflower seeds at him:
As mentioned, however, he's not just a freak-show novelty. Here he is belting a walk-off home run to beat the Royals in September:
As you can see from the videos, Astudillo isn't without some athleticism despite his girth, and he can play multiple positions. With the Twins, he started 14 games at catcher, five at third base, one at second and even played a few innings in the outfield -- including an inning in center field, making him, according to Ben Lindbergh, the first player in major league history listed at 5-foot-9 or shorter and 215 pounds or heavier to play center field. In winter ball, he has spent most of his time in left field. At 27, he's too old to rank high on prospect lists, but he can play and has a chance to stick with the Twins as a utility player.
All of this has helped make Astudillo one of the most fascinating players to watch in 2019. Here's the thing, though: I haven't mentioned the most interesting thing about him. The dude never strikes out. Like ... almost never. With the Twins, he struck out just three times in 97 plate appearances, a strikeout rate of 3.1 percent. The second-lowest rate belonged to Mets infielder Luis Guillorme, who fanned just three times in 74 PAs, a 4.1 percent rate (although Guillorme was above 10 percent in Triple-A). That's an outlier total as well: The third-lowest rate was Andrelton Simmons at 7.3 percent, and only six other players were below 10 percent.
Not striking out is Astudillo's game. At Triple-A Rochester, he fanned just 14 times in 307 PAs. In winter ball, he has four strikeouts in 236 PAs. In his minor league career, he has just 81 strikeouts in 638 games. Joey Gallo struck out 80 times in May and June. Yes, the minor leagues aren't the majors, and we have to note that Astudillo also never walks -- he walked just twice with the Twins and just 84 times in his minor league career. He had those 14 K's with Rochester, but just 10 walks, giving him a triple-slash line of .276/.314/.469. Basically, when he swings, he puts the ball in play.
He's an iconoclast in the era of swing and miss.
The greatest contact hitter in the sport's history is arguably Hall of Famer Joe Sewell. In 1925, he played 155 games, batted 699 times -- and struck out four times. In his 14-year career, he batted 8,333 times and fanned just 114 times. Yoan Moncada calls that the All-Star break. Sewell's career strikeout rate was a minuscule 1.4 percent. Baseball-Reference has game data for Sewell from 1925 to 1933. He had one two-strikeout game, on May 26, 1930, when a pitcher named Pat Carraway of the White Sox got him in the first and third innings. Sewell, who choked up on a 40-ounce bat, didn't strike out again the rest of the season.
Of course, that was a different era. In 1925, the overall major league strikeout rate was a lowly 6.9 percent. In 2018, it was 22.3 percent. Astudillo rarely whiffs in an era of 100 mph fastballs, nasty cutters and sliders diving off cliffs. Sewell faced Lefty Grove ... and a whole bunch of guys throwing 85 mph. (By the way, Sewell faced Grove -- the preeminent strikeout pitcher in the American League in his time -- 129 times and fanned just one time.)
Let's compare Astudillo to other low-strikeout hitters by looking at the qualified batters who had the lowest strikeout rate each decade:
There are a couple of ways you can examine this. Astudillo, in his short time with the Twins, fanned 19.2 percent less often than the average hitter. Sewell, in 1925, fanned just 6.3 percent less often, although obviously had less room to "improve." If we compare the player's rate to the league rate, Sewell's 1932 season stands as the best, while Astudillo's rate compares to Boudreau, Fox and Dave Cash's 1976 season with the Phillies. (I wonder if Cash made a concerted effort not to strike out that season. He had 47 extra-base hits in 1975 and 49 in 1977, but just 27 in 1976, batting more than 700 times each season.)
What kind of role will Astudillo have with the Twins in 2019? His Baseball-Reference projection has him at .279/.335/.438 (with 42 strikeouts in 249 PAs, which seems like way too many). He's third on the catching depth chart behind Jason Castro and Mitch Garver, although Baseball Prospectus' minor league framing metrics rated him as a solid pitch framer. The third baseman is Ehire Adrianza -- or Miguel Sano, if the Twins try to put him back there -- so maybe there's an opportunity there. The outfield appears pretty set with Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler, and Jake Cave as the backup. Nelson Cruz will soak up all the DH at-bats. Still, there's playing time to be had, and I think Astudillo hits his way into 300 or so plate appearances.
Which means plenty of highlight videos to keep everyone happy all summer.