A year ago if you had told me that Josh VanMeter and Aristides Aquino would be in the same starting lineup against the Atlanta Braves in August of 2019, I probably would have turned my head a little bit in confusion and stared at you for a few seconds before asking, “what?”
But that’s exactly how things are currently playing out for the Cincinnati Reds right now. A year ago Josh VanMeter was in Triple-A with the Louisville Bats. And while we now know that he was in the midst of a huge break out, on August 5th of 2018 he was hitting just .218/.275/.380 in Triple-A through 72 games. A few weeks before that point is when he really started to turn things around. Over the final 49 games of 2018 in Triple-A he hit .301/.359/.566. And remember, this was last season when Triple-A wasn’t using the Major League baseball. The changes in his swing, the changes in his approach (which I wrote about here at the end of April if you want some more insight into what he’s done)- they were finally starting to come together for him over the final two months.
His changes carried forward in 2019, too. In 49 games in Triple-A this season he hit an absurd .348/.429/.669. In another 46 games with Cincinnati this season he’s hit .287/.398/.483. A year ago it would have seemed a bit crazy to consider that Josh VanMeter was going to be a guy we were all clamoring for to be in the lineup nearly every day.
But that’s kind of the thing about most players. Development isn’t linear and in a straight line. Most guys aren’t Ronald Acuna Jr who just absolutely blister the baseball from the day that they sign. Most guys have their ups-and-downs, have to adjust things along the way that results in some struggles before things turn back around.
For Aristides Aquino, his journey has been a little bit different than that of Josh VanMeter. Until this season, VanMeter had never appeared on any top prospect lists over the year – in either the Reds or Padres organization. Aquino, however, has been. He’s been inside the top 10 on all of the most popular lists at times in his career. But, he’s also had an up-and-down minor league career. After tearing up rookie ball in 2014, he really struggled in full-season ball with Dayton in 2015. But then in 2016 he won the Florida State League MVP Award after crushing 26 doubles, 13 triples, and 23 home runs while throwing out 28 base runners from right field. But Double-A was a real challenge for Aquino, and he never really put things together there. Over this past offseason he was designated for assignment and cleared waivers, making him a free agent. But he immediately re-signed with the Reds the same day he hit free agency.
Cincinnati worked with the big right-handed hitter in the spring and changed his stance, among other things. He was more opened up than ever before. His timing mechanism and leg lift/kick was altered. With those changes in place, the Reds sent him to Triple-A. With the baseball flying out of ballparks at record paces across both the International and Pacific Coast Leagues, Aquino was among the guys pushing the leaderboards. He missed nearly a month early in the season with a shoulder injury. Despite that, when he was called up last week he was 2nd in the league in home runs. The right fielder was hitting .299/.356/.636 with 13 doubles, a triple, and 28 home runs in just 78 games played for the Louisville Bats this season.
The power has always been there for Aristides Aquino. And over the weekend he got a chance to show it in the Major Leagues and make an impact. He was 0-6 in his first two games in 2019 with Cincinnati. But on Saturday in Atlanta he came to the plate three times, and he did so against Dallas Keuchel. In his first at-bat he lined a single to center. The next time he came to the plate he drew a walk. And then came the big blow, homering to left-center and tying the game up in the top of the 7th inning with a 3-run blast.
Yesterday he was on the bench, but he came off in extra-innings to pinch hit and got a rally started with a single. He would later score on Tucker Barnhart’s home run that put the Reds ahead for good.
A year ago these two players didn’t quite seem to be in the immediate plans for the organization at the big league level. Josh VanMeter didn’t even get an invitation to big league spring training this year. But things change, and they can change quickly with young players. Right now we’re seeing two guys coming up and helping the Reds. VanMeter’s been doing it a bit longer, but Aquino’s made his presence felt twice in the last two days.