Aristides Aquino had an abbreviated, yet record-breaking 2019 season with the Cincinnati Reds. So what grade does Aquino get for his performance this year?
For two weeks at the beginning of August, Cincinnati Reds right fielder Aristides Aquino was the hottest story in baseball. From August 1st, Aquino’s first game of the 2019 season after being recalled from the minor leagues, until August 15th, the 25-year old from the Dominican Republic set the baseball world on fire.
During that two week span, Aquino swatted nine home runs in 14 games, producing a 1.369 OPS, and taking home National League Player of the Week honors. After just one at-bat in 2018, Aquino became a sensation overnight in 2019.
During Aquino’s electric month of August, the Reds outfielder broke numerous MLB records with the frequency of his home runs. Aquino broke the Major League record for most home runs through his first 13 games of the season (nine).
Aquino also tied Trevor Story for the most home runs in his first 10 games with the team, with seven. Despite not debuting until August, Aquino finished tied with Keston Hiura for fourth in the NL among rookies in home runs.
As was to be expected, Aquino eventually cooled off in the season’s final month, posting just a .169/.236/.382, with just five home runs. As a result of his down September, Aquino’s end of season line looked much more tame than his blazing August, finishing with a slash line of .259/.316/.576, and 19 home runs in just over 200 plate appearances.
During his August tear, Aquino was mashing fastballs, slugging .654 with seven home runs in plate appearances ending with a fastball. However, the hidden strength of Aquino during this time period was his success against breaking pitches, as he hit four more home runs with a .756 slugging percentage against breaking balls in August.
Aristides Aquino’s success with the breaking pitches did not continue into September however, as the young outfielder slugged a paltry .241 against the pitch type, with zero home runs. Oddly enough, according to Baseball Savant, pitchers actually decreased their use of the breaking ball against Aquino in September, while their fastball usage increased slightly.
With the amount of information that teams now have at their disposal, it is a wonder why they did not choose to attack Aquino with the curveball and slider more often during the final weeks.
Despite his struggles at the end of the month, Aquino still provided Reds fans many fun memories in his short stint with the Major League club. Aquino had large shoes to fill in right field, as the outfielder was recalled from Triple-A Louisville to replace the roster spot left open by Yasiel Puig, who instantly became a fan favorite and clubhouse leader in his half season with the team.
Aquino’s best moment and perhaps the Cincinnati Reds moment of the year came in an early August game against the division-leading Cubs. In the third game of the crucial weekend series, Aquino had himself a Saturday night to remember, smashing three home runs in the first four innings, including two off one of Chicago’s top starting pitchers, Kyle Hendricks.
As a result of his home-run mashing abilities, Aquino was quickly dubbed with the nickname “The Punisher”, a name that followed him for the rest of the season, and was an easy marketing tool for the Cincinnati Reds, and their social media team.
Defensively, Aquino displayed much of the same raw ability of Puig, with a laser for a throwing arm and the range to track down fly balls in the gap, thanks to a sprint speed that ranked in the 89th percentile in all of baseball. However, similar to Puig when he came up with the Dodgers in 2013, Aquino needs to learn to harness his arm strength to make smart, accurate throws back into the infield.
One troubling aspect that Aquino displayed during his two month stint in the Major Leagues in 2019 was his penchant for the strikeout. Despite the overall increase in strikeouts across the league, Aquino’s 26.1% strikeout rate will have to decrease for the young outfielder to take the next step forward. Additionally, Aquino walked just 7.1% of the time, while his aggressive approach often led him to chase pitches out of the strike zone.
Heading into 2020, Aquino seems to have the inside track toward receiving the starting right field job to begin the season. However, as enticing and impressive as the raw power and athleticism is, Aquino is going to have to make strides toward cutting his strikeout rate, while also improving his plate discipline. If Aquino is able to continue to improve, he should blossom into a valuable piece of the Reds core for the foreseeable future.