Say it with me: it’s okay to have three catchers if one of them is Willians Astudillo.
Fans of the 2005 Twins may remember the confounding roster construction decisions that led to Ron Gardenhire breaking camp with three — actually, four, if Matthew LeCroy is to be included — catchers on the club.
If transported to the Year of our Lord 2019 and saw that the Twins still have three catchers on their roster, you’d be forgiven if you shrieked and shielded your eyes after a quick glance at the roster. But, as it turns out, Willians Astudillo is a better third catcher than Corky Miller.
(He’s more entertaining, too, unless you consider 0-for-12 as a Twin “entertaining”, or perhaps the prelude to Miller’s Twins career, which included an .026 batting average with Cincinnati in 2004. Also entertaining.)
The Twins’ everyday lineup in 2019 projects as genuinely fearsome; everyone should hit 15 or more home runs if they stay healthy, and players like Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, and Eddie Rosario offer plenty of upside with known, veteran commodities bridging the gaps. But the offensive potential doesn’t stop there.
Even the bench is potent. Tyler Austin’s dangerous pop headlines the pinch-hitting options, but even backup catcher Mitch Garver, who struggled offensively last year when given the chance to start everyday with the Twins, hit 17 home runs at Triple-A in 2017.
And that brings us to the flexibility of the roster. Under Ron Gardenhire, flexibility meant having four catchers, one of whom could play first base in Matthew LeCroy. Always afraid of being caught with his pants down by having a DH-ing catcher injured during the game (because that happens all the time), Gardy was armed with starter Joe Mauer, backup Mike Redmond, second backup Corky Miller, and LeCroy when the team broke camp in 2005.
It wasn’t the only time during Gardy’s reign that the team carried three catchers. Nor was it the last time that Gardenhire at least seriously considered deploying such a strategy.
In 2019, three catchers actually means two guys who only catch and one guy who can (and has) played every position on the diamond. Add in Marwin Gonzalez, who can play all four corner positions and second base well and both shortstop and center field in a pinch, and the Twins have arguably the most flexible roster in the league.
For now, that means that Gonzalez will be the everyday third baseman while Miguel Sano continues to recover from a heel laceration. Occasionally, Gonzalez will slide to a different position and Astudillo will play third base. Or, there’s always the more traditional utilityman option in Ehire Adrianza.
It’s important to note that this incredible flexibility is absolutely a byproduct of the Twins’ unconventional early-season schedule, which includes five off-days in the first 15 days of the season, including five games in National League ballparks. That means that Minnesota is able to carry five bench players and only 11 pitchers, prolonging a tough decision that will loom over the team for the next couple of weeks.
Adrianza and Austin are each without minor league options, and the Twins would no doubt prefer to hang onto both players. Fourth outfielder Jake Cave, on the other hand, has an option remaining and could be sent to Triple-A Rochester with no repercussions.
At any rate, the Twins’ season-opening roster is a testament to the creativity of the front office and new manager Rocco Baldelli. The willingness to hang onto a unique player such as Astudillo and add a versatile player like Gonzalez late in free agency ended up paying off immediately when Sano landed on the injured list and Garver struggled mightily in spring training.
Now, the Twins roster is ready for almost anything, and if nothing else, the entertainment factor is much higher than Gardy’s catcher-heavy roster.
No word on the likelihood of Astudillo bringing back the Naked Walk to the backup catcher’s role. Stay tuned...