Absolute unicorn: Meet Willians Astudillo, maker of contact
Jason O. Watson / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Willians Astudillo, the eminently entertaining Minnesota Twins prospect/curiosity/absolute unit, uncorked a mighty go-ahead dong Tuesday in the eighth inning of a postseason game in his native Venezuela. Some of the finest theater in winter-ball history ensued. Here's the entire sequence:

It's no hyperbole to suggest that this will rank among the greatest things to happen on a baseball diamond in 2019, nor is it particularly surprising that Astudillo was responsible. He is, after all, the most incredible player you've potentially never heard of.

Astudillo isn't merely a Bartolo Colon lookalike with a demonstrable disregard for baseball's unwritten rules. He's not just a 5-foot-9, 225-pound beefcastle capable of playing virtually every position on the diamond. He's also a complete offensive anomaly - a player so anachronistic at the plate that it's difficult not to envision your dad nodding approvingly whenever his name is mentioned.

Astudillo never strikes out and never walks, which is practically unheard of in this era of Three True Outcomes. Last year, a record 30.8 percent of all big-league plate appearances ended in either a strikeout or a walk, marking a seventh straight season of declining contact rates:

Season Contact% BB% K% K+BB%
2009 80.5 8.9 18.0 26.9
2010 80.7 8.5 18.5 27.0
2011 80.7 8.1 18.6 26.7
2012 79.6 8.0 19.8 27.8
2013 79.4 7.9 19.9 27.8
2014 79.3 7.6 20.4 28.0
2015 78.8 7.7 20.4 28.1
2016 78.2 8.2 21.1 29.3
2017 77.5 8.5 21.6 30.1
2018 76.9 8.5 22.3 30.8

Astudillo isn't about that life, though. He needs to make contact. Throughout his slow ascent up the minor-league ladder, Astudillo - who signed with the Philadelphia Phillies ahead of the 2009 campaign and bounced around to the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks before catching on with Minnesota last winter - never deviated from his approach. He continued putting the ball in play at an almost fetishistic rate even as major-league clubs clearly began to value contact quality over contact frequency.

Year Level BB% K% K+BB%
2009 FRk 3.8 4.8 8.6
2010 FRk 5.9 1.8 7.8
2011 FRk 6.8 0.9 7.7
2012 Rk 0.6 3.3 3.9
2014 A 4.1 4.3 8.4
2015 A+ 2.4 2.4 4.8
2016 AA 1.5 3.2 4.7
2017 AAA 3.1 3.9 7
2018 AAA 3.3 4.6 7.8

In case those rate stats didn't do it for you, here are some counting stats that stand out: In 2011, Astudillo, then 19, struck out twice in 220 plate appearances; the following year, he took one walk in 45 games; never once, in nine seasons, did he strike out more than 20 times, and on three occasions his walks were equal or to or exceeded his strikeouts. It worked, too. All told, Astudillo hit .306/.345/.409 in 638 games - encouraging numbers for a catcher - while putting the ball in play in roughly 91 percent of his 2,461 plate appearances.

Finally, last year, the internet's most beloved unheralded prospect was able to put his unique skill set on display at the big-league level. The Twins called Astudillo up for a hot minute in June, and he rejoined the club for good in late August. Across his two stints in Minnesota, he was sensational, hitting .355/.371/.516 (138 OPS+) over 29 games while staying true to his #brand.

Brace Hemmelgarn / Getty Images Sport / Getty

In 97 plate appearances, Astudillo took two walks (2.1 percent), struck out three times (3.1 percent), and made contact on 91.7 percent of the pitches he swung at, the highest mark among hitters with at least 90 PA. (The only such hitters to post a lower walk rate than Astudillo were Ronald Torreyes, Dee Gordon, and Francisco Arcia, none of whom struck out in fewer than 13.6 percent of their trips to the plate.) Before Astudillo, the last player to bat at least 97 times in a season while walking no more than twice and fanning no more than thrice was Craig Gerber, in 1985. Before him, it hadn't happened since 1949. In the live-ball era, such thresholds have been met only 10 times, mostly by pitchers. Almost no position player in the modern era, in other words, has hit like Astudillo.

And what distinguishes Astudillo - often cast as a novelty act - from those scant contact-mad players of yore is that he can actually drive the ball with authority. Of the four position players since 1920 to put the ball in play as frequently as Astudillo did last year, only Astudillo managed above-average production. Moreover, his 138 OPS+ tied him with Joe Mauer for the second-highest ever by a Twins player in his first season (min. 97 PA) at the big-league level. Yes, the sample is tiny, but still.

Player Year PA K+BB% OPS+
Willians Astudillo 2018 97 5.2 138
Craig Gerber 1985 97 5.2 63
Johnny Sain 1949 102 3.9 26
Johnny Sain 1948 132 3.0 56
Murry Dickson 1948 101 2.0 31
Johnny Sain 1946 104 0.0 80
Woody Jensen 1938 129 3.1 22
Erv Brame 1930 122 1.6 99
Vic Aldridge 1927 100 4.0 29
Dixie Davis 1921 101 5.0 22

Despite his impressive audition, Astudillo's role with the Twins for the upcoming season remains unclear. Following a quietly shrewd winter of maneuvering by Minnesota's front office, it's not even a guarantee that he'll make the Opening Day roster. Right now, Jason Castro is poised to be their everyday catcher, and Mitch Garver seems to have the backup job locked down. Astudillo - who caught 16 games down the stretch while also logging time at third base, second base, center field, and left field (with a pitching appearance to boot) - could potentially serve as the club's super-utility player, but with Ehire Adrianza and Tyler Austin both out of options, he may end up the odd man out.

Hopefully, though, Astudillo gets 600 plate appearances in 2019 and showcases his endearing weirdness to as many fans as possible. He's truly one of a kind, and plays the game with unabashed joy, as evidenced by the clip above. Dudes like that don't come around very often.

Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.

Absolute unicorn: Meet Willians Astudillo, maker of contact
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