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A Tortoise or the Rake? Minnesota’s Final Player


Ted Schwerzler

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My last Opening Day roster projection (version 2.0) was put out on February 10th. Not much has changed since then, and I feel good about what I came up with. The end of the position players come down to a two-way battle in my mind, and that would be between The Turtle and Rake Cave.

 

After jumping into relevance during 2018, Astudillo came back to earth a year ago. Cave was acquired in exchange for Luis Gil and has served in an adequate fourth outfielder role since. Now entering 2020 with one of the best rosters in baseball, it will be about production and function when considering who will grab that coveted 26th roster spot.

 

Let’s get to the tale of the tape.

 

What Does Willians Do Well?

 

When considering the functionality of Astudillo, you’d be hard pressed not to immediately notice his flexibility. No, not in terms of limberness, but in the sense of positional opportunity. Over the past two seasons he has played six different positions each year and calling him a primary anything may be a stretch.

 

On top of being able to move him all over the diamond, there’s his ability to put the round bat on the round ball. He’s got 301 major league plate appearances and has struck out just 11 times. That 4% strikeout rate is in line with the 3% mark he set in the minors over 2,500 plate appearances as well. In a league dominated by power, commanding the zone to that extent is a feat in and of itself.

 

What Doesn’t Willians Do Well?

 

This is where strengths also become weaknesses for the artist famously known as La Tortuga. Rocco Baldelli is afforded the ability to play Astudillo all over the diamond, but defensive metrics suggest it’s not an opportunity he should be excited about. He’s a below average catcher, small target at first base, poor at third, and substantially stretched in the outfield. He’s a utility player in that he “can,” but the utility is lost in thinking whether he “should.”

 

Also, about that strikeout rate. Last season Astudillo’s swing tendencies were exploited to the tune of a dismal .678 OPS. He still didn’t strike out at all, but because he doesn’t take walks either, he’ll never be a strong OBP guy. He has a very good ability to hit the ball, but a poor ability to discern what pitches he should be attacking. A 40% ground ball rate and 30% hard hit rate aren’t going to result in many positive outcomes. Aggressiveness works against him for the most part and opposing pitchers have exploited it.

 

What Does Cave Do Well?

 

Andrew Thares recently did a great job breaking down Jack Cave over at Twins Daily. His 2019 was exponentially better than starting outfielder Eddie Rosario, and he played a key role after Byron Buxton went down. Finishing with an .805 OPS in 72 games, Cave posted a .296/.377/.556 slash line over his final 50 games (39 starts 142 AB). He certainly fans plenty but doubling his walk rate to nearly 10% was a good adjustment.

 

In the field Cave is limited to just the grass, but he contributes in all three positions. Although he’s an average at best outfielder, it’s not as though he’s a liability. Centerfield is not the place you’d want to put him, but he’s plenty adequate on the corners. Given the volatility involved with Minnesota’s starting centerfield option, the ability to cycle players through makes a good amount of sense.

 

What Doesn’t Cave Do Well?

 

I’m not sure Cave’s greatest hinderance is that there’s something he doesn’t inherently do well on his own as much as it’s the hand he’s currently being dealt. He’s a fourth outfielder on a team that has one of the better outfields in all of baseball. Although Eddie Rosario could be replaceable, that doesn’t appear to be a blueprint that will happen internally at the moment. On top of that, acquisitions in the infield have made Marwin Gonzalez more of an outfielder (a role he has been defensively superior at) pushing Cave further down the ladder.

 

From a personal contribution standpoint, Cave does have some opportunity for growth in terms of contact rate. He’s just below 70%, and given the 52% hard hit rate in 2020, more bats on balls is a good thing. He owned a .358 BABIP despite just a .258 average. Sure, the counting numbers aren’t there yet but that could turn quick.

 

At the end of the day, I think there’s little argument to be made that Cave isn’t the better player of the two. What this could come down to is the more ideal positional fit, and right now, Astudillo has that working in his favor.

 

For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz

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Great article and comparison of two of my favorites. One additional talking point would be: who can be more useful sitting on the bench for 5-6 games between use; and who would benefit more from playing everyday in Rochester. 

 

In that regard - and this is strictly an eye test, as I don't have any numbers backing this up - I would give the leg-up on an MLB Opening Day roster spot to Astudillo. He's a natural-born cheerleader in the dugout, available to play more positions in an emergency (remember Gardy's fascination with carrying a third catcher?), and can plug more holes than Cave. If Cave is playing, it's because someone in the outfield is injured, and he'll be available for a call-up on their trip to the IL. 

 

Turtle Power.

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Great article and comparison of two of my favorites. One additional talking point would be: who can be more useful sitting on the bench for 5-6 games between use; and who would benefit more from playing everyday in Rochester. 

 

In that regard - and this is strictly an eye test, as I don't have any numbers backing this up - I would give the leg-up on an MLB Opening Day roster spot to Astudillo. He's a natural-born cheerleader in the dugout, available to play more positions in an emergency (remember Gardy's fascination with carrying a third catcher?), and can plug more holes than Cave. If Cave is playing, it's because someone in the outfield is injured, and he'll be available for a call-up on their trip to the IL. 

 

Turtle Power.

This is where I think Astudillo makes more sense, and you hit it on the head. From a pure talent and ability perspective, it's Cave. Astudillo is the better fit though.

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The choice is really between Gonzalez and Astudillo for the last spot on the roster.

 

This goes back to ability over purpose. There’s less than a 0% chance Marwin doesn’t make the Twins roster. Astudillo fits into the redundancy category with him, but his flexibility could be viewed as more beneficial than the ability of Cave. That’s where he’d get the spot even if he doesn’t deserve it.

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Trade Cave before 2020 season starts. He has no future with Twins after this season. Try to make a deal like Yankees did in getting Gil for Cave. Yankees won that trade. Yankees Gil has huge upside. Cave’s Twins career could easily been replaced by LaMonte Wade. 

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Trade Cave before 2020 season starts. He has no future with Twins after this season. Try to make a deal like Yankees did in getting Gil for Cave. Yankees won that trade. Yankees Gil has huge upside. Cave’s Twins career could easily been replaced by LaMonte Wade.

 

I’d caution that his numbers suggest he could be on the verge of much more. While he may be blocked in MN, his value goes up if his production does as well.

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There is a chance both players make the team because there may be a player injured to begin the year. Remember, there were few times throughout last year where everyone was available. There will probably be ample playing time for both. A trade is also a possibility which could impact whom is on the team.  

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No way we are going to lose the Cave/Gil trade. He's pitched 3 games of A+ ball?

Oh really. Do you think the Twins FO would not now trade Cave back to Yankees for Gil ? Cave is a AAAA caliber player. Gil is 21 with high 90s heat. Rated Yankees 4th best prospect. And you thinkTwins won the trade. Wow. Not very insightful. 
 

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Actually it's very insightful. Let's try to explain what's perfectly clear another way. Our buds the Yankees have at best a marginal farm system. Their 4th best prospect would be on our late teens or early twenties. By the time Gil debuts, which is far from guaranteed, Cave will have spent time in The Show for 5 or 6 years. No way we can lose this trade.

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There is a chance both players make the team because there may be a player injured to begin the year. Remember, there were few times throughout last year where everyone was available. There will probably be ample playing time for both. A trade is also a possibility which could impact whom is on the team.  

I don't see "ample time" for whover is the 13th position player. With the versatile switch-hitters (Gonzalez and Adrianza) on board, it will be tough to get substantial playing time for the last guy.

 

Niether Astudillo nor Cave would provide a platoon advantage to many situations, unless Cave replaced Buxton in the lineup. Cave was very good last year versus same-handed pitching, but pretty bad in 2018. Unless he can put up reverse splits again this year, I don't see opportunities for him to get much time.

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Oh really. Do you think the Twins FO would not now trade Cave back to Yankees for Gil ? Cave is a AAAA caliber player. Gil is 21 with high 90s heat. Rated Yankees 4th best prospect. And you thinkTwins won the trade. Wow. Not very insightful. 
 

Until Gil makes it to the Bigs and actually contributes to the big league squad, yes the Twins win that trade. Guys with attributes like Gil flame out all the time

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I see both get plenty of playing time. If Astudillo is able to be more discipline at the plate, I see him breaking camp on the roster. Astudillo is more flexible, it`s great to have a 3rd catcher & he`s a great contact hitter. Cave could start on many teams & given the chance, could be pretty good

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Assuming the rest of the league views Cave as an everyday player (with 5 years of control), the Twins FO should take advantage of this opportunity and make a deal for another high ceiling arm like Duran or Chalmers.

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The only 2 things I like(d) about Astudillo is his name (not the nickname), and the no look pick off throw he made to first in a Spring Training game. He is a liability everywhere he plays in the field, and as for "commanding the zone".... the way he swings at anything, I wonder if he even knows where the zone is. This is a team that should be done with cute stories, and refining all roster moves for a play-off run. I wish him well, just not on the Twins.

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Next year will be interesting. I hope Lewis takes that big step this year, we are weak in depth up the middle & his athleticism would solve a lot of problems. The way things are right now is Lewis get called up as an super utility player

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Until Gil makes it to the Bigs and actually contributes to the big league squad, yes the Twins win that trade. Guys with attributes like Gil flame out all the time

And guys like Cave are a dime a dozen AAAA caliber players. Trade him now.

 

 

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Oh really. Do you think the Twins FO would not now trade Cave back to Yankees for Gil ? Cave is a AAAA caliber player. Gil is 21 with high 90s heat. Rated Yankees 4th best prospect. And you thinkTwins won the trade. Wow. Not very insightful.

 

No. They wouldn’t. At least at this point. Cave now has an 111 OPS+ in over 500 major-league plate appearances.

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The choice is really between Gonzalez and Astudillo for the last spot on the roster. Gonzalez wins easily except that Astudillo can (sort of) Catch. A 3rd Catcher who kind of stinks behind the plate isn't a guy you need on the 26 man roster unless you're Gardenhire; it's a guy with options you have at AAA.

 

 

 

Where is the "kind of stinks behind the plate" coming from? 

 

 

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Which Ones? 

 

Are any of the stats stable with 289 MLB Innings over 31 games?

 

Framing, DRS, receiving, blocking, CS all below average. He played pitcher in the big leagues before getting behind the plate haha.

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