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.

17 Responses

  1. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I would still hold the court out on Aquino for a while. I mean, 9 AB’s, that’s not much to be judging from, especially given his last stint up here.

    But, wtih VanMeter, I’m entirely impressed. If he starts like this next season, I say extend him. He could be our answer to 2nd next season.

    • Pete

      Absolutely but what Doug has laid out is supporting evidence if AA and Josh continue on their merry ways. It didn’t occur out of the thin blue air, changes were made and improvements integrated.

      The most encouraging aspect is the Reds are developing players and from what I see they are really developing them at AAA. Other names we might want to keep an eye on: O’Grady, Crook and Tromp. Maybe these are just ships passing in the night or maybe their not. Only time will tell but it’s far better to see positive signs than not. Now the pitching in the farm system……

      God, I hope we are witnessing a pattern here. Thanks Doug.

    • Shchi Cossack

      @Steve, I’m not sure what you are referencing when you say “especially given his last stint up here.” Aquino’s last (and only) appearance was one game when he entered in the 6th inning as a pinch runner and later got just 1 AB. That was the full extent of his last stint, other than the obligatory time in the dugout.

    • Steve Schoenbaechler

      @ Pete

      I entirely agree with the development at AAA, at least with the non-pitchers. We got some awesome hitters down at AAA. I’m not so sure elsewhere.

      And, I can’t help thinking that, in order to look for offense next season, from what I can tell, we would be looking at SS, 2nd, and C, unless an OF falls into our laps. Because I’ve seen the FA list for these 3 positions, and there’s no offensive standout I could tell.

      I see Senzel or VanMeter (probably JVM) at 2nd next season. I see us going with Barnhardt and Casali still at C, with Casali probably getting more playing time. I could see going with Winker, Senzel/JVM, Ervin, and AA in the OF. As for SS, where? I would hate to see Jose go, because his offense came on strong with BA-RISP, always near the league leaders, something this team sorely missed for seasons. But outside of RISP, he isn’t getting the job done. I could still see bringing him back, I could see going with someone else. Ideas?

      Again, all of this, unless someone falls to us. But, I don’t see how we trade either. We don’t have many trade pieces, I believe

      • BigBill

        Jose Iglesias not getting it done?? Great fielding and hitting .280 plus for the year is just what a championship team needs.

  2. Don

    Doug, great writing as always. Thanks for the details.

    A successful small market team needs to find some of these late bloomers/off the radar players to make significant positive contributions.

    Hoping JVM and Aquino play well for an extended period. Looking at most successful teams they have the same core ( at least 6 of 8) play 150+ games a year and have maybe one platoon position and two catchers whom split 66/33 for the games.

    Some players may swap defensive positions based on the 1 of 7 position players that is taking a day off but they all seem to know where they are batting when they play.

    The constant (daily) juggling of the Reds batting order has to be having a negative impact on the low run production.

    I do not remember where I first heard this but it has stick with me a long time.

    Great coaches adjust to their players skills and win a lot.
    Good coaches find players that match their coaches style and win sometimes after the roster is totally turned over.
    Poor coaches put players where the coach wants them and tells the player to adjust, the players try to adjust but never achieve any consistent winning but they are close very often.

  3. wizeman

    i just read we picked up Gausman. i live in Atlanta and my boys are making fun of me immediately.
    We are paying the rest of his salary.
    not sure why…. but do we have to play short when Garrett and Hughes serve their suspensions.

    • David

      The only downside is the money and it isn’t mine. Give DJ a shot with him and he could turn into a gem. If not, move onward next year.

  4. David

    VanMeter’s batted ball profile is fantastic with 34% line drives and 34% fly balls. He seems like a slightly different version of Max Muncy, which would be fantastic for the Reds.

  5. doofus

    Let us see if Derek Johnson can help Gausman turn it around.

  6. CI3J

    Re: Gausman

    His FIP is 2.00 lower than his ERA and he is striking out 10 per 9 ip. This is a really smart move. He could by dynamite in the bullpen

    • rex

      it may be to put some pressure on Hughes and Hernandez

      • LWblogger2

        I’d put him out there before Hernandez now and Gausman hasn’t been a reliever. I like Hernandez a lot but he has never been more than solid other than a couple years that he was good. He’s never been “very good”. This season has been very unkind to the guy and it might be nearing the end as far as his MLB career. That said, relievers fluctuate more than any other player and hopefully he’ll catch on with a non-NL-Central club and pitch well.

  7. jbonireland

    With regard to the unexpected help we are getting, I beg to differ. Yes these guys are hitting better this year in the minors but I feel this is part of the Turner Ward effect. We finally paid to have professionals as hitting and pitching coaches and I believe your are seeing the results from this adjustment in personnel in both hitting and pitching.