Aristides Aquino has been on the fringes of the prospect radar of Reds fans for a few years now. I’ll count myself among the skeptical, largely because of his plate approach, which lead to a lot of strikeouts and not many walks.

This year, however, he’s been absolutely destroying pitchers in Louisville and that left me wondering if he had arrived. So I talked to Aquino and Louisville hitting coach Leon “Bull” Durham.

Before we get to that, a quick note: Yes, offense is up all over Triple-A with the switch the major league ball. However, Aquino is still pulling down a 150 wRC+, meaning he’s 50% better than the average Triple-A hitter.

“I just changed my stance a little bit. It’s made me more consistent,” Aquino says Turner Ward worked with him in spring training and that was the source of the change. Most notably (because, again, the Triple-A ball IS juiced compared to past seasons), his strikeout-rate is down six percent from two seasons ago.

Narciso Crook was there to serve as translator, but Aquino noted they’ve played together a long time, and I asked Crook what he saw. Crook said he can see that Aquino is making adjustments with every pitch now and keeping his overall approach simple.

Bull Durham is working with him for the first time, but noted what I’ve heard elsewhere, which is that his reputation was that he had trouble with breaking balls. “The young man has made some adjustments,” he said. “He’ll fall back to chasing balls in the dirt every now and again, but nobody’s perfect.”

“There’s still some little things he needs to learn in order to compete at the next level. He’s gonna get there. The young man has a future.” When I asked specifically about his potential, Durham said, “He’s gonna be an everyday guy. I have a good feel for talent. I can recognize it.” It was a strong statement of support, but what does it mean for the Reds.

Well, first, Aquino’s numbers really are meaningfully different. Especially the strikeouts. At 25, he’s not outside the prospect window in terms of age and he had massive power. The transition to the big leagues is always the hardest, but between the shifting numbers, his changed approach, and the observations of those who work with him, it seems he certainly should be on the radar. His ascent gives the Reds a potential starting outfielder which they may very well need come 2020.

42 Responses

  1. docproc

    He would seem to be the perfect replacement for Puig if we trade Yasiel at the deadline. Power bat, big arm in RF. I doubt he has Puig’s speed, but I see he stole 21 bases in 2014.

    The Reds have been grooming Aquino forever and he’s finally blossoming. Would hate to see him rot away in the minors.

    For those who haven’t seen Aquino’s slash line, it’s currently .300/.359/.626/.984.

    For what it’s worth, Josh VanMeter’s is currently .364/.444/.704/1.148.

    • RP

      And he would be a FRACTION of the cost.

      • Lockersocks79

        RP I don’t care if he’s a fraction of the cost. If the Reds don’t go out and get great players with the money saved then what does this team gain in the long run? We can not spend another 5 years rebuilding. Keep the players that produce and build around then. Aquino might take a few years to really shine in the MLB anyways.

      • Pete

        Yes, waiting a couple more seasons would be the Reds way. Aquino is mashing the ball at AAA, what more is there for him to prove? Hopefully, the Reds will be quicker on the gun and move the kid up. If Scooter is traded , they should bring JVM to start at 2B. Nothing for either of these guys down in the minors, they have mastered that level – time to see what they can do up here. Just like with Ervin and Senzel..

      • Lockersocks79

        @pete I’m for calling him up but not for him taking any large percentage of playing time away from Puig. Vladimir Guerrero jr crushed it in the minors but isn’t exactly doing the same in the majors. MLB history is littered with minor league all stars that underperform in the majors it took years to develop on the major league stage…let’s not downgrade a MLB position based on minor league stats.

      • Jim Walker

        How the front office handles guys like Aquiño and VanMeter will say a lot about whether the its new found flexibility goes beyond skin deep.

        Aquiño was something of a big time prospect who seemed to have topped out. VanMeter was not seen as a big time prospect. As such neither really fit into whatever the master plan was last off season heading into this year.

        Meanwhile some guys who looked like early MLB arrivers and impact players are either gone (Shed Long), diverted to other positions (Senzel) or not beating the door down to be moved up (Jose Siri, Taylor Trammell).

        So, now Dick Williams and crew look to have some different options and choices to make for the near future.

  2. RojoBenjy

    His Lefty/Righty splits this year are better than Winker’s or Ervin’s.

    There has to be an AL team that needs a lefty DH that has cool choreography.
    And as much as I love Ervin, there has to be a contender that needs more depth at outfield.

    If the Reds keep Puig, why not shop those two, knowing that El Castigador could take up LF?

  3. David

    I really have to ask people about this…..why would we keep Puig, at the cost of a long term contract?
    The Reds have a several good young PROSPECTS for the outfield at AAA. I want to see Aquino get a chance to play in Cincy to see what he has. Yes, he will struggle with the breaking ball for a while. It’s pitch recognition.

    What the Reds NEED is quality starting pitching. If you are going to pay out the yazoo, get a good starting pitcher. Promote the young (potential) outfielders. What the Reds DO NOT have is any more immediately promotable starting pitchers. There are guys in the system that are a couple of years out, but except for Keury Mella at AAA, who else is going to come up to join the rotation?

    I like Puig, He has power and hustles and I think has a good attitude. I am not anti-Puig. It just will cost a LOT of money to keep him, which is money that should be spent on pitching.

    • RojoBenjy

      Emotional attachment.

      Have to be willing to walk away from Puig.

      • Indy Red Man

        It’s not emotional. He’s a good player. He fills a huge need and he hustles more then anyone the team! We need runs. No pitching will be able to shut people down at gabp

    • greenmtred

      I’m a believer in pitching, but I’ll play devil’s advocate: The Reds have had outstanding pitching this season and have rarely been out of last place. Hitting–lack of it–is the reason. I agree that Puig could cost too much, but if the Reds can afford him, they should try to extend him. There’s a pretty good chance that none of the minor league outfielders will be ready to be difference-makers next year, and the Reds need to be competitiive sooner than later.

    • Curt

      They’ll have to get an idea of what kind of money he’s gonna be looking for before trade deadline. I could go either way on Puig. Having watched him for years in LA, I knew his slow start was most likely due to the extreme change in environment. Now that he’s getting back to normal, everyone can see his true value.
      That said, I’m a firm believer in going young in the field and using the money for the mound. With Votto’s 25mil, best if the other seven are cheap and controllable.
      If however his demands are reasonable, with all he brings, I’d consider keeping him but only if all other pricey position players were moved…Scooter, Peraza, even Suarez. Votto and Puig would cost what? 35-40 mil a year together? So the rest of the field needs to be guys under a mil. Or they’re won’t be any money for pitching. And yes, we need it.

  4. Old-school

    The Reds need to hit more home runs. Yasiel Puig and Suarez are getting it done. Puig may hit 35 this year. Can Aquino step in as a RF next year and hit 30 home runs? Can Josh van Meter step in and hit 30 home runs at 2b? The Reds don’t have time to wait and can’t afford to let players who can…… leave.

    Let Aquino and Van meter put up huge numbers and increase their trade value for the off-season.

    • Old-school

      @jreis- your comments on attendance spot on. The reds need to win to get fans of course. They also need an identity. Fans want to root for their favorite team- but also their favorite players. Reds have too much turnover and average fan can’t buy a jersey or t-shirt because of all the 1 year rentals and free agents and rotations of AAAA players in and out of the lineup. I went earlier this year and we specifically bought tickets in RF to see Puig. Outfield has turned over completely, 3 shortstops in 3 seasons. Etc. Reds need to identify and commit to their core players and let fans root for them. Constant turnover is damaging the team.

      • Don

        Excellent Post Old School! I agree completely!

      • jreis

        yes! and I think that is why the old fans like me are so excited about Senzel and Puig. they are players that can give us an identity similar to the one we had in the 1970s and then again in the 90s. Based on speed, aggressive base running, elite defense.

      • Don

        The rentals is why I bought a blank Jersey and senzel t-shirt when I went to games this year. Wanted to have name on shirt be someone who will be on team next year.

      • Old-school

        @Don. My son wanted a Senzel jersey. Delivered yesterday and looks great.

  5. Hotto4Votto

    He should definitely have an opportunity ahead of him if he keeps it up. I looked at the roster earlier and the Reds have 7 potential free agents leaving (depending on Hughes option). There’s about another five guys on AAA who have been on the roster multiple years who have been pretty mediocre overall with Stephens, Reyes, Peralta, Mella, and Trahan. Then a handful of borderline ML guys that may be out of options (I haven’t looked into it but I feel that Sims, Reed, Romano, Schebler and maybe even Ervin fall into this category).

    With that many roster decisions looming, Aquino has a really good chance to play his way back onto the 40-man roster, where he should still have at least one option left.

    • wizeman

      move Senzel to second his natural position. try and resign Puig. Puig, Winker, Aquino, Ervin, Van Meter, Siri, Trammell.
      Blind monkey can find three out of that group.
      Gennett money off the books… along with Kemp money… isn’t that 14 million.
      Trade Iglesias for controllable arm…another 9. Roark 10.
      Extend Castillo and Desclafini.
      Decide about Jose Iglesias. And Alex Wood.
      Raises to Lorenzen and Garrett.
      That kind of money can get a free agent pitcher that everybody choked on until after the draft.
      Easy LOL

      • TomN

        Agree especially about Senzel. Ervin deserves an extended look NOW. He’s been bashing and he’s okay in the OF. Give him a look in CF. Dietrich was great for a month, but he seems like he’s only trying to hit HRs. He needs to up his average. Peraza is a spot starter who can play IF/OF – same with Farmer though and Farmer can catch. If we have to move one of them, I’d prefer Farmer though Peraza is probably the only backup SS. I really think the Reds should be trying to sign Iglesias (SS) and Puig now. Iglesias has been a real find. His D is incredible. I’d really like to see the Reds make a deal with Roark. Such a workhorse and he’s been pitching really good as of late (until giving up the HRs against the Brewers).

  6. RandyW

    The Reds are 2nd to last in NL in runs scored. They need to upgrade the offense, not bring everyone back.

    • wizeman

      And no position has underperformed as much as second base.
      203/288/383

      Moving Senzel to second alleviates that and I think we have the depth in the outfield to find our way.

      It’s the starting pitching that seems barren if you look down the road. At least in short term… especially if Santillian has bum shoulder.

      • jim walker

        Agree on the SP depth. With Romano making a start recently, a person has to wonder if they are stretching him out for another MLB look see after the ASB. Then there is the possibility of BobSteve or Lorenzen being out on the same road.

        I think there is a chance one or two them might do passable job as starters; but, haven’t the Reds been down these roads once, twice, maybe three times already.

      • Shchi Cossack

        “…haven’t the Reds been down these roads once, twice, maybe three times already.”

        They most certainly have, but not with DJ & DB navigating.

  7. Scott Gennett

    As for position players, perhaps excluding C and SS, they’re fully loaded both at ML and AAA level, so many options are available. As for starting pitching there’re no viable options after Castillo, Grey, Disco and Mahle, and that’s assuming great expectations out of them. I’d say at least a couple of studs are still needed for 2020 and beyond.

  8. Steve Schoenbaechler

    If he gets called up, we will know more, then. I would like to see him against major league pitching before making a decision. For, “major league ball” isn’t the same as “major league pitching”.

  9. SteveO

    Reds take a chance with Boxberger and Ciuffo on minor league contracts?

  10. Pete Snow

    Everybody keeps saying we are barren in the pipeline at catcher. Not true. Tyler Stephenson is a former early first round pick, and is hitting well in AA as a 22 year old. More importantly, he has soft hands and a plus arm. He is the Reds future catcher

  11. TR

    It seems to me that the Reds, in comparison to many ML teams, have few players who come up to the Bigs at the young age of 20-23. By the time they’re here it’s usually age 24-25 or more. My point is, with the Red’s good farm system instead of keeping them ‘forever’ in the minors, to include some of these highly rated prospects in trade(s) for a couple stud pitchers which is a better avenue to a winning team.

    • Steve Schoenbaechler

      I agree. Oh, there are individuals who move quick, like Leake. But, others?

      That might be a good stat to look into. Of all minor leaguers who the big clubs bring up, what is their average age for, oh, the last 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? Pick the date. That would be some interesting research.

      Senzel moved pretty good through the minors; it couldn’t have been a bit quicker, but even 1 year maybe?

      Winker was in the minors for 5 years. It seems like he was a solid hitter throughout. Came from high school. He couldn’t have been a year or two quicker? Even Votto didn’t start with us till he was 24, coming from HS. But, Suarez gets to the majors when he’s 22, signed out of high school. Peraza when he’s 21, signed out of high school. Going by baseball-reference.com, the Dodgers are starting this season with 3 players 24 and under, and all 3 of them have at least 3 years in the majors.

  12. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Oh, Wow!!! Raciel?! To close this game? Against 3 lefthanders? What about Garritt? Or, most anyone else right now.

    • Steve Schoenbaechler

      Sorry, yeah, Braun was there. Still, against Raciel?

  13. Shchi Cossack

    Aristides Aquino has been a VERY interesting and often frustrating prospect. Just when you think he’s got, he doesn’t. Then when you write him off, he slams the door open the cycle repeats.

    2011

    The Cincinnati Reds signed 16-year-old Aristides Aquino to a free agent contract. The youngster from the Dominican Republic spent the 2011 season (age 17) and the 2012 season (age 18) playing right field in the Dominican Summer League with sub-marginal success.

    2013

    The 19-year-old Aristides Aquino moved stateside, playing in the Arizona Rookie League and began making a positive impression while claiming a modicum of prospect status, slashing .278/.325/.479 with a .805 OPS. His swing-heavy plate approach, resulting in a 4.8% walk rate and a .201 ISO, became his calling card, although his 19.1% strikeout rate didn’t raise any red flags…yet.

    2014

    The 20-year-old Aristides Aquino moved up to the Pioneer Rookie League and made a definitive statement as a Cincinnati Reds prospect, slashing .292/.342/.577 with a .919 OPS. With his swing-heavy plate approach producing a .285 ISO, nobody objected to his 21.5% strike out rate and 4.9% walk rate.

    2015

    The 21-year-old Aristides Aquino moved up to the Low-A Midwest League with a shiny #12 preseason prospect ranking. This was Aquino’s first exposure to a full season league and his performance suffered against better competition, slashing just .234/.281/.364 with a .645 OPS. His swing-heavy plate approach, resulting in a 21.3% strike out rate and a 4.4% walk rate now became an issue impacting his development.

    2016

    Despite his struggles against Low-A pitching, the Cincinnati Reds promoted the 22-year-old Aristides Aquino to the Advanced-A Florida State League. After Aquino’s preseason prospect ranking dropped to #23, his offense simply exploded against the pitcher-friendly league competition, slashing .273/.327/.519 with a .846 OPS. His .246 ISO fueled Aquino’s coming out party. The results Aquino produced were not handicapped by an offense-friendly rookie league. A lot of knowledgeable people began talking about the Show. Aristides Aquino’s cannon arm, above average speed and powerful, dangerous bat represented the future in right field for the Cincinnati Reds.

    2017

    The 23-year-old Aristides Aquino grabbed the #6 preseason prospect ranking on his way to the Double-A Southern League. For the first time in his profession full-season league career, Aquino began the season more than a year younger than the league average. The more advanced pitching in the Southern League made a serious statement against Aquino’s swing-heavy plate approach, limiting him to a .216/.282/.397 slash with a .678 OPS and a .181 ISO. Aquino’s 28.8% strikeout rate did not play, even with an improved 7.7% walk rate. To make matters worse, the Reds had to add Aquino to the 40-man roster to protect him from the rule-5 draft. The Double-AA Southern League had apparently claimed another prospect victim.

    2018

    The 24-year-old Aristides Aquino dropped completely off the Cincinnati Reds top 30 prospect list. A new wave of younger outfield prospects (Taylor Trammell, Stuart Fairchild, TJ Friedl, Jose Siri, Michael Beltre, Nick Longhi) came charging up the Cincinnati Reds prospect list to the Advanced-A Florida State League and Double-A Southern League. Aquino returned to the Double-A Southern League and improved his performance from the previous season, slashing .240/.306/.448 with a .754 OPS. His marginally improved .208 ISO, 7.8% walk rate and 25.2% strikeout rate failed to sufficiently impress the organization. Aristides Aquino was dropped from the 40-man roster and subjected to the rule-5 draft during the subsequent offseason, going undrafted, and becoming a free agent. Aristides Aquino signed a minor-league contract to return with the Cincinnati Reds organization.

  14. Shchi Cossack

    That brings us the surprising season at hand.

    2019

    The Double-A Southern League roster was filled with highly prized outfield prospects. Few of those prospects were ready to advance beyond the Double-A level of competition, resulting in less of an outfield roster crunch at the Triple-A level. The Reds assigned the 25-year-old Aristides Aquino to the Triple-A International League roster, where he was now more than 2 years younger than the average age. A significant offseason development impacted the 2019 season for the Triple-A International League and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Major League Baseball mandated that the same ball used at the major league level would be used at the Triple-A level. Hitters began driving the new baseball with unprecedented ferocity, turning the pitcher/hitter neutral Triple-A International League into a hitter-friendly league with an average OPS of .792 and turning the hitter-friendly Triple-A Pacific Coast League into a Sunday Beer Softball League with an average OPS of .824. This change brought Aquino along for the ride. In April, Aquino slashed .286/.345/.633 with a .978 OPS. In May, Aquino slashed .352/.386/.500 with a .886 OPS.

    Two factors contributed to minimize Aquino’s early performance. The first factor was a significant shoulder sprain to his throwing shoulder that sent him to the Injured List from 04/22/2019 to 05/18/2019, just shy of a full month during the first two months of the season. The shoulder injury and recovery could certainly have impeded his performance when he returned in May with a .148 ISO during the remaining two weeks of the month. The second factor was the preponderance of superior hitting performances suddenly emerging from the league, including the Louisville Bats roster. During April and May, several of the Louisville Bats hitters made hay. Josh VanMeter slashed .336/.431/.736 with a 1.167 OPS before being promoted to the Cincinnati Reds major league roster. Brian O’Grady slashed .329/.399/.683 with a 1.082 OPS. Nick Longhi slashed .306/.360/.531 with a .891 OPS. Aquino’s early hitting surge didn’t look particularly head-turning impressive.

    Then June happened and Aristides Aquino slashed a monstrous .300/.376/.744 with a 1.121 OPS, resulting in a .311/.371/.648 slash line with a 1.019 OPS for the season thru the end of June. The missed playing time while rehabbing his injured shoulder left Aquino just 9 plate appearances shy of the 222 plate appearances required to qualify among the Triple-A International League leaders by the end of June. The qualified league leader, Mike Ford, slashed .319/.426/.657 with a 1.084 OPS through the end of June. Aquino’s 1.019 OPS would have qualified for second place in the Triple-A International League with just 9 additional plate appearances above the 2.7 per game required for qualification. Aquino’s underlying performance has also improved this season with a 22.1% strikeout rate and an 8.4% walk rate. Aquino has also demonstrated success against both right-handed pitchers and left-handed pitchers, making a cumbersome platoon situation unnecessary.

    Thru Wednesday’s game, Aquino achieved qualifying status for the Tripe-A International League season and currently ranks 4th in the league with a .991 OPS while slashing a cool .300/.362/.629 with a .329 ISO!

  15. Shchi Cossack

    So where does that take us regarding Jason’s question?

    2020

    Aristides Aquino’s 2019 performance has certainly provided cause for the Old Cossack to give him serious consideration going forward. He provides above average speed with a cannon arm. For comparisons familiar to Cincinnati Reds fans under similar playing conditions in the Triple-A International League for the Louisville Bats:

    In 152 plate appearances, Scott Schebler has slashed .241/.316/.343 with a .659 OPS. In 172 plate appearances, Phillip Ervin has slashed .290/.384/.483 with an .866 OPS. Those two players have had success at the major league level (Schebler) or anticipate success at the major league level (Ervin).

    I don’t think the Reds can afford to ignore Aristides Aquino as an option for the Cincinnati Reds in 2020. A .444 ISO during June and a .329 ISO for the season through the end of June stakes a pretty stark claim for serious consideration. Aristides Aquino could represent the cost-effective solution for the starting right fielder in GABP for the Cincinnati Reds going forward and free up more cash in the budget to fill additional roster needs for 2020. Catching has been a serious issue with Barnhart’s offense falling off the chart and Casali’s performance suffering with increased playing time. The 30-year-old Yasmani Grandal will almost certainly opt out of his $16MM mutual option with the Brew Crew for 2020 in favor of a $2.25MM buyout. He would become a FA without any encumbering compensation, unless the Brew Crew locks him down to an expensive extension before the end of the season (I don’t see this happening). His .256/.374/.511 slash with an .885 OPS, 126 OPS+ and .255 ISO playing in Miller Park would translate nicely to playing in GABP and the Reds would have to financial where-with-all to sign Grandal to a pricey, multi-year contract. Locking up Jose Iglesias would fill another need at SS for 2020. The internal options at 2B (VanMeter, Blandino, Dietrich, Farmer, Senzel) should fill that need without external options. Of course, any decisions regarding the roles for Aquino, VanMeter, Blandino, Farmer, Ervin and Winker in 2020 requires organizational commitment to determining MLB capability prior to opening day 2020 and that starts with a decisive, flexible plan for the remainder of the 2019 season with an eye on competing in both 2019 and 2020.