We’ve got this baseball thing all wrong.
Small children play baseball just for fun. There’s literally no other possible reason. When it stops being fun, they do something else. Such is life as a toddler. Somewhere around kindergarten, we’re introduced to the concepts of winning and losing. This is where everything goes south.
Yes, baseball is still fun, even while we’re trying to win the game. With each advancing year towards adulthood, winning matters more and more. It’s hard to say exactly when victory supplants entertainment as the highest priority, but it does happen for all of us.
Obviously, winning is all that matters for MLB teams. (OK, not really. There’s money, player development, money, and also money.) Fun is no longer a priority. It’s an accidental byproduct of trying to win (and make money!).
Maybe this is backwards. Why are we bothering with baseball unless it’s fun? Why does winning matter at all? Yes, it’s usually fun to win, but maybe on-field success should be the accident, and entertainment the goal.
This is a Minnesota Twins preview. The Twins are probably a good team, but it’s not certain. They probably won’t make the playoffs, but it’s not certain. Even if they do sneak into the second Wild Card spot or dethrone Cleveland in the AL Central, they probably won’t win the World Series, but it’s not certain. Devan Fink recently described this in fantastic detail including lots of cool graphs. It’s good and you should read it.
The purpose of this article is not to find out whether or not the Twins are good team, or at least good enough to accomplish any of the above goals. Baseball is all about fun, or at least it used to be when we were little. Our query is whether or not the Twins will be a fun team in 2019. Everything else is auxiliary.
Willians Astudillo was a 26-year-old rookie last year with just 97 plate appearances, yet he might be the single most fun player in baseball.
Let’s start with the basics. Astudillo is a catcher/third baseman/left fielder who also moonlighted at nearly every other position— including pitcher— in 2018. He’s listed at 5’9, 225 pounds; both of the listings are generous. Imagine end-stage Marlon Byrd with Hanley Ramirez’s hair and Javy Baez's exuberance.
Astudillo acheived a 117 wRC+ at triple-A Rochester and 139 wRC+ with Minnesota, but that’s not the point. In Triple-A, he accumulated just 14 strikeouts and ten walks in 307 plate appearances. Upon reaching the majors, he struck out just three times and walked only twice! Somehow, he still ended up with a higher slugging percentage than Joey Gallo. Gallo struck out twice while you’ve been reading this article.
On top of everything else, there’s the highlights—oh, the highlights! Here’s a nonchalant no-look pickoff:
How about a walk-off dinger:
And another from the Venezuelan Winter League, where he was the MVP runner-up, including an epic pose:
Willians Astudillo may have broken every single one of baseball's unwritten rules on one home run pic.twitter.com/LD6e73C1Eh— ESPN (@espn) January 9, 2019
Astudillo may or may not break camp with the Twins, but he’ll be with the team at some point. That’s enough to be exhibit A in any trial of entertainment.
Marwin González, the newest Twin, is arguably the most versatile player in baseball. Last year with Houston, he started more than two dozen games at each of left field, shortstop, second base, and first base. He also lined up at third base, center field, and right field.
Playing lots of positions is cool, but that alone doesn’t make him Captain Versatility. He’s also a switch-hitter who’s equally potent from the right side (.722 OPS) as the left (.753 OPS).
González doesn’t really have a position on the Twins; rather, he has every position. He’ll line up somewhere different every day. That alone keeps the lineup interesting.
On the 20-80 scouting scale, Byron Buxton scores about a 527 on defense and 392 on speed. Unfortunately, his bat is a -3. Seriously; his wRC+ last year was actually -3.
In 2017, with a 90 wRC+, he was a 3.5 fWAR player. In other words, his speed and defense made him one of the top overall outfielders in the league, despite offense 10 percent worse than league average.
If he can hit enough to stay in the majors, which he failed to do in 2018, he’s a treat to watch. His 30.5 ft/s sprint speed was the fastest in baseball by 0.3 ft/s. Given that our mission is to enjoy baseball regardless of on-field success, let’s check out some defensive highlights. Those are always better than hitting highlights anyway.
Pitchers Have Fun, Too!
Fun is not limited to position players. Minnesota fans can derive joy from some of their hurlers as well.
José Berríos is a young ace in waiting. He turns 25 in May and made his first All-Star Game last year. He was formerly one of the top prospects in baseball, and he has Cy Young stuff. This could be the year he really pops.
How do you feel about relievers who strike out 1⁄3 of the batters they face? The Twins have a good one in Trevor May. Taylor Rogers isn’t far off the mark either.
We haven’t even considered the power of Miguel Sanó and C.J. Cron, the intrigue of Michael Pineda, or the Germanity (Germanness?) of Max Kepler. Given the overwhelming evidence, presented here, the Minnesota Twins are officially a fun team. They might even be good too, for whatever that’s worth.
Who cares? Let’s watch more Astudillo clips!
This video of Willians Astudillo rounding third base and scoring is pure gold! pic.twitter.com/hbGYqgeXtw— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) September 13, 2018
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983