If there were such a thing as the Willians Astudillo Era of Twins baseball, it probably ended Friday. But the day may more likely be remembered for the beginning of the Royce Lewis Era.
Astudillo, whose "La Tortuga" personality made him one of the most popular Twins players for four seasons, was designated for assignment Friday as the Twins cleared space on their roster for six minor league prospects, four of them pitchers. If Astudillo clears waivers, he becomes a free agent, almost certainly ending the 30-year-old's tenure in Minnesota.
Lefthander Charlie Barnes was also designated for assignment, while outfielder Kyle Garlick and lefthander Devin Smeltzer were assigned outright to Class AAA St. Paul.
Those moves allowed the Twins to move Lewis, the shortstop who was the first player chosen in the 2017 amateur draft, onto the 40-man roster for the first time, preventing him from being claimed by another team in the upcoming Rule 5 draft, currently scheduled for Dec. 9 in Orlando.
Jose Miranda, the infielder chosen as Twins Minor League Player of the Year after slugging 30 home runs this year for St. Paul and Class AA Wichita, was also added to the winter roster, as were four righthanded starting pitchers: Blayne Enlow, Cole Sands, Chris Vallimont and Josh Winder.
The Rule 5 draft allows teams to pluck four- and five-year veteran prospects from other organizations, as long as they remain on the active (26-man) major league team for the entire season. The Twins lost outfielder Akil Baddoo to the Tigers in this way last winter, and in 2013 they added Ryan Pressly from Boston through the same draft.
For Lewis, it's an ironic end to a lost season, one spent not playing baseball but rehabbing from knee surgery after a slip on some ice last winter tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Lewis, long ranked as one of the Twins' top prospects since signing for a $6.75 million bonus four years ago, is expected back next spring, but he hasn't played a game in two seasons and has yet to rise above Class AA.
Still, the athletic infielder is only 22 and was MVP of the Arizona Fall League at the end of 2019.
Miranda, a second-round pick in 2016, became the Twins' most exciting minor league player last summer, batting .345 with 13 homers at Wichita, then .343 with 17 more after being promoted to St. Paul.
Sands, Vallimont and Winder all spent most of the summer in the starting rotation at Wichita, each of them averaging more than a strikeout per inning. Enlow posted a 1.84 ERA in three starts for Class A Cedar Rapids, then underwent Tommy John elbow ligament surgery in June.
Smeltzer and Garlick's seasons didn't go much better; Smeltzer, 26, was expected to challenge for a spot in the Twins rotation but instead pitched only one game for the Twins before suffering an elbow injury, then a back injury while recovering. Garlick, 29, made the team as an extra outfielder and hit five home runs before suffering a hernia that required season-ending surgery.
Barnes, a soft-tossing lefty, made eight starts for the shorthanded Twins over the season's final three months, finishing with a 5.92 ERA in 38 innings.
Outfielder Jake Cave avoided the fate of his roster-fringe teammates by agreeing to a one-year contract, worth less than $1 million, for 2022. The 28-year-old reserve batted only .189 with three home runs in 76 games this past season.