Hey! The Reds are playing pretty well, and as they continue to get healthy pitchers back and call up the young cavalry, our favorite baseball team just might be fun to watch for the rest of the season. For a small to mid-market team like the Reds, young players signed, drafted, or traded into the system play a large role in rebuilding the team and then sustaining success. These teams hope their high round picks turn out well, but sometimes they need some others guys to surprise.
Aristides Aquino has the potential to be one of those guys. Aquino is currently the right fielder for the High A Daytona Tortugas. Side note: Minor league mascot names are fun. After a difficult 2015 campaign, the young right fielder just may have turned a corner.
The Reds signed Aquino in January of 2011 as a non-drafted free agent. He was a 17-year old out of the Dominican Republic with a lot of tools. They assigned Aquino to their Dominican Summer League team for his first two seasons and brought him stateside in 2013. He had a solid season, but scouts really began to take notice the following year.
In 2014, Aquino impressed in his first full season with the Billings Mustangs, the Reds rookie ball team, as he slashed .292/.342/.577 in 307 plate appearances while playing mostly right field. Aquino smacked 16 homeruns, showing some serious power potential. He also stole 21 bases. Here’s some video from the 2015 season that displays some of his power.
Baseball people took notice. Kylie McDaniel, then of Fangraphs and currently with the Atlanta Braves, said that “Reds’ officials and rival scouts were both raving” about Aquino. McDaniel’s own assessment was that Aquino flashed “five average or better tools with his power projection and arm strength both rating in the 60s” on the 20-80 scouting scale. Those are some serious tools.
Baseball Prospectus stated that Aquino might be the most talented player in the system based purely on tools. They rated his power and “borderline plus-plus speed” highly and said that if “the light clicks, watch out.” In the following video, he shows off some of that speed by reaching second when his hit doesn’t get by the right fielder.
Big arm. Excellent speed. Impressive power. Why haven’t you heard more about Aquino? Well…2015 happened.
Playing for the Low A Dayton Dragons, Aquino never got going. After a slow start, he was hit by a pitch in late April that broke his wrist and caused him to miss two months of the season. Wrist injuries can be difficult for hitters to come back from, causing issues with a players swing for an extended period of time. It certainly seemed to affect Aquino. He hit only five homeruns with the Dragons in 249 plate appearances, slashing a meager .234/.281/.364.
The injury undoubtedly limited him, but he also had another debilitating problem.
Tools do not always translate into skills, often because another part of a player’s game limits his effectiveness in another. For all of his talent, Aquino has had one glaring flaw in his pro career: he swings at everything. After 2015, Baseball Prospectus described Aquino as having no “semblance of an approach at the plate.”
And they weren’t kidding. Aquino walked only 4.4% of the time with Dayton while striking over 21% of the time. Those numbers are similar to the ones he put up during his successful 2014 season, but as he encountered more advanced pitching, his considerable talent couldn’t overcome his flaws.
Aquino was a forgotten man. As quickly as he had jumped onto the scene, he was kicked off set.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Reds advanced Aquino to High A to start this season, and for most of April, it looked like he was over matched. He bottomed out on April 26th when his averaged dipped to .157, and his slugging percentage (.229) was lower than his OBP (.234). Ugly.
Then, something clicked. Since April 27th, Aquino has hit .307/.365/.540 with nine homeruns and a ridiculous 169 wRC+. That runs created score is basically Joey Votto’s 2015 season when he finished third in the MVP voting. Not surprisingly, the power has returned. More importantly for his development, his walk rate is over 7% for the season, almost doubling his career rate of 3.8%.
Aquino doesn’t need to walk much more than that. Swinging at fewer poor pitches will allow him to tap into his power and avoid making so many outs. As a 22 year old, he may have figured out the key to turning his superior tool talent into skills.
He still has a long way to go. Aquino hasn’t even had an at bat above single A, and at higher levels, he will likely need to make more adjustments. Even so, the first 2.5 months of this season have been a big step forward for someone with as much potential as anyone in the Reds’ system.
If he can continue to be effective throughout the rest of the season, Aquino will put his name back on the list of candidates for a future corner outfield spot with the Redlegs. In a rebuild, teams get a big boost when toolsy players figure out how to be successful. So far in 2016, Aristides Aquino has given us hope he can be one of those guys.