Matthews: Has Astudillo Been MVP For Red Wings?


When the Minnesota Twins signed Willians Jose Astudillo as a six-year minor-league free agent November 30, 2017, the first things you noticed were his posted size (5-foot-9 and 225 pounds) and an interesting stat line.

In 560 career games – all in the minors and mostly below Class AAA – the Venezuelan was a .311 hitter with only 75 walks and 67 strikeouts in 1,979 official at-bats. Unofficially, he had the reputation as one of baseball’s toughest hitters to strike out and to walk. He loves to swing the bat and seldom walks because he’s so eager to hit. His career performance line included 58 hit-by-pitches and 33-for-47 stealing bases.

Last season, with Reno of the Pacific Coast League, a hamstring issue and a broken hand limited him to 36 games. He batted .342 (41-for-120) with 14 doubles, 4 HRs, 22 RBI, 4 walks and 5 strikeouts. In one appearance as an emergency pitcher, he worked two scoreless innings and earned the decision in a 17-inning victory over Sacramento.

A 10-year pro at the tender age of 26, Astudillo’s main position – other than hitter – was catcher. He was known for the unusual ability to throw behind runners in pick-off attempts without looking to first base. He appeared to be a candidate to make Rochester’s roster as a utility player/pinch-hitter.

As the mildly disappointing Red Wings close in on the midpoint of this International League season, they have a 30-33 record mainly because most of the hitters have produced below expectations. Rochester ranks last batting average, rubs and on-base percentage + slugging percentage in the 14-team league.

Astudillo has emerged from spare part to arguably the team’s Most Valuable Player. In 40 games, he has become a regular in the lineup. He’s hitting .297 (43-for-145), with 8 doubles, 1 triple, a career-high 7 HRS, 22 RBI, 5 walks and 9 strikeouts. He has 5 stolen bases in 7 attempts. His slugging percentage is .510.

He has played catcher and a surprisingly solid third base. He has produced in the clutch. He’s a smart player. He has produced above expectations – a rarity on this team so far.

Astudillo is not on Minnesota’s 40-man roster but I’d like to see the Twins promote him September 1 or sooner. He has yet to appear in a major-league game, but is hitting prowess and versatility would be assets for at least a few big-league teams. He’s a tough player not to root for.


Tyrod Taylor played a major role in ending Buffalo’s 17-year NFL playoff drought,

Now Cleveland – his new team – has the NFL’s longest playoff drought: 15 years.

Interviewed this week by NFL Network Inside Minicamp Live, Taylor said he’d love to help knock the Bills out of the playoffs this season. He has something to prove. Do you blame him?

The big catch, of course, is Buffalo and/or Cleveland making the playoffs.


How much longer can New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman resist making a trade for an established starting pitcher?

With Jordan Montgomery out for the season (Tommy John surgery), Masahiro Tanaka sidelined with sore hamstrings (he’s a pitcher – not as baserunner) and Domingo German already in the rotation, Friday night’s starting pitcher against Tampa Bay will be Jonathan Loaisiga. Who?

Loaisiga is a 23-year-old pitcher from Nicaragua. He has a 6-1 record this season at Class A+ (Tampa) and Class AA (Trenton), but most of his other numbers are less impressive: 3.00 ERA; 45 innings; 47 hits allowed; 4 walks; 53 strikeouts. It looks like he has excellent control and the Rays figure to be digging in.

The Yankees look like a good bet to make the playoffs but a do-or-die wild-card game would be very risky. The Boston Red Sox are too good for the Yankees to be starting unproven rookie pitchers much longer.


What was the all-time best NBA team for one season?

Of course there can be no definitive answer. It is fodder for debate.

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton this week posted his “50 Best NBA Teams”.

His criteria for ranking the teams included dominance in the regular season and playoffs. Won-loss records, point differential and quality of competition were included in his analysis.

His pick is the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors. He noted that those Warriors came one year after the 2015-16 Warriors had posted an all-time best 73-9 record before losing 4-3 in the Finals to Cleveland and then added Kevin Durant in the offseason. The 2016-17 Warriors were 67-15 in the regular season and 16-1 in the playoffs, including 4-1 over Cleveland in the Finals.

Pelton’s all-time No. 2 team is the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (72-10 in the regular season; 15-3 in the playoffs, including 4-2 over Houston in the Finals). He admitted that many NBA fans would rank these Bulls No. 1.

The 1985-86 Boston Celtics are No. 3 on his list.

His “Top 50” included 11 editions of the Celtics, 9 editions of the Los Angeles Lakers and 6 editions of the Bulls.

No surprise, the 1951 NBA champion Rochester Royals didn’t make the “Top 5.” Coach Les Harrison’s Royals finished the regular season with a 41-27 record, only third-best in the 11-team NBA. They were 9-5 in the playoffs, including 4-3 in the Finals against the New York Knicks. Their average point differential was a mere +2.9 in the regular season (84.6 to 81.7) and +7.07 in the playoffs.


The Buffalo Sabres/Rochester Amerks have been busy signing defensemen for the 2018-19 season: Zach Redmond, Andrew MacWilliam, Arvin Atwal and Brandon Hickey. That’s good.

But the big problem last season for both teams was lack of firepower. Sahir Gill was Rochester’s leader in goals with 18 in 74 games. Seven other players had between 15 and 17 goals. The leading scorer was Redmond with 47 points (including 15 goals).

The organization in a deal Thursday obtained 30-year-old veteran winger Mike Sislo from the Arizona Coyotes. He played all 68 games for AHL Tucson last season and led the Roadrunners (40-20-8 record) with 23 goals. He also had three seasons with at least 20 goals (27, 23 and 20) for the Albany Devils. He had 8 goals and 8 assists in 18 games with the 2016-17 Toronto Marlies. In 42 NHL games with the New Jersey Devils, he had 3 goals and 2 assists.


Who is your pick among active players for the most-underrated career in Major League Baseball?

My choice is San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey. I believe he is quietly building a career worthy of Cooperstown – possibly on the first ballot.

Check out these credentials: 2010 National League Rookie of the Year...2012 NL Most Valuable Player (11ith in 2010, 20th in 2013, 6th in 2014, 9th in 2015, 14th in 2016)...2012 NL batting crown...five All-Star Gold Glove.

His career batting line: 1,094 games; .308 career batting average (1,226-for-3,981); 534 runs; 238 doubles; 9 triples; 132 HRs; 618 RBI; .376 on-base percentage + .472 slugging percentage = .848 OPS (exceptional for a catcher).

In Posey’s eight previous full seasons the Giants won three World Series.

He’s a solid receiver and a clutch hitter. He doesn’t run fast. Can’t have everything.

Posey turned 31 in March and is signed through 2021. His nine-year contract is worth $167 million and he’s been a bargain.

He’s a solid low-profile pro keeps quiet and – in my opinion – a rare underrated baseball superstar.


The Toronto Marlies ended a very long 2017-18 American Hockey League season Thursday night with a 6-1 home victory over the Texas Stars in Game 7 of the Calder Cup Finals. The crowd was 8,818 at Ricoh Coliseum. Toronto became the 29th different city to win the Cup. The Marlies were the AHL’s best team in the regular season and in the playoffs. They had a 68-23-2-2 overall record and outscored opponents 327-216 (+111).

Toi celebrate Rochester’s first-ever victory as the Plates, the Red Wings today are offering 31 percent off (they won 3-1 in Buffalo Thursday night) all Plates merchandise for online purchase only.

The Los Angeles Lakers are the 7-to-4 favorite in Las Vegas to be LeBron James’ new team for the 2018-19 NBA season. My hunch is that unless he wants to more strongly pursue an acting career in Hollywood, he’ll steer clear of the Western Conference and kingpin Golden State. I believe he’ll sign with Philadelphia, Boston or the Knicks, or even return to Cleveland (presumably minus J.R. Smith), Whichever Eastern Conference team he joins likely would result in another trip to the Finals for King James.

A few fun stats from ESPN Stats & Information and Elias Sports: Yankees rookie Gleyber Torres has hit all 13 of his home runs since May 4. The only player with more HRs over that span is Boston’s J.D. Martinez...Justin Verlander on the road since joining the Houston Astros is 10-1 with a 1.34 ERA...Tiger Woods in 49 over-par in his eight majors in the state of New York...Jacob DeGrom has a 0.87 ERA in his last 10 starts and the Mets are 2-8 in those games....In the past five soccer World Cups, 85 percent (51-for-60) that won their first game advanced to the knockout stage...The host nation won 6 of the previous 20 World Cup tournaments (NOTE: Russia isn’t likely to win this year, Qatar won’t win in 2022 and USA/Mexico/Canada probably won’t win in 2026)...Toronto’s victory over Texas was the first time in 15 years that the Calder Cup Finals went the seven-game limit.


Friday, June 15

Mohamed Salah (26)...Jake Locker (30)...Eduardo Nunez (31)...Trevor Plouffe (32)...Tim Lincecum (34)...Derek Anderson (35)...Curtis Enis (43)...Andy Pettitte (46)...Tony Clark (46)...Justin Leonard (46)...Wade Boggs (60)...Brett Butler (61)...Lance Parrish (62)...Cathy Morse (63)...Dusty Baker (69)...Mike Holmgren (70). Ice Cube (49), Courtney Cox (54), Helen Hunt (55) and Xi Jinping (65) are invited to the birthday party.

Saturday, June 16

Andrew White (25)...Alex Len (25)...Jermaine Gresham (30)...Andre Holmes (30)...Rick Nash (34)...Jonathan Broxton (34)...Jerricho Cotchery (36)...Damius Zubris (40)...Kerry Wood (41)...Phil Mickelson (48)...Cobi Jones (48)...Randy Barnes (52)...Wally Joyner (56)...Mike Moller (56)...Steve Larmer (57)...Darrell Griffith (60)...Roberto Duran (67)...Al Cowlings (71)...Rick Adelman (72).

Sunday, June 17

Kyle Boller (37)...Venus Williams (38)...Matt Barnes (38)...Mika Noronen (39)...Popeye Jones (48)...Dermontti Dawson (53)...Mike Milbury (66)...Dave Concepcion (70)...Eddy Merckx (73)...Bob Barlow (83). Barry Manilow (75) and Newt Gingrich (75) are invited to the birthday party. Rochester/Cincinnati Royals Basketball Hall of Famer Maurice Stokes was born on this date 85 years ago (1933) and died in 1970 at age 36.

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