The Cincinnati Reds made two decisions last November that didn’t seem to mean a whole lot at the time. The first decision was to not protect Josh VanMeter from the Rule 5 draft on November 20th. That was the final day in which teams could add players to their 40-man roster and keep them from being selected by another team. The Reds chose to only add one player, Jimmy Herget. 10 days later the team decided to non-tender Aristides Aquino a Major League contract for the 2019 season. That removed him from the 40-man roster and made him a free agent.
No one was really surprised by either move. Aristides Aquino had struggled mightily in two seasons in Double-A Pensacola. Between his two seasons he hit a combined .227/.293/.421. Josh VanMeter was solid in Double-A and Triple-A, but overall his numbers didn’t jump out at you.
Let’s start with Josh VanMeter. As noted just above, his numbers didn’t jump out at you overall. But as I’ve discussed here, there, and everywhere – there was a clear change in approach, and in results, in the second half of the season. From July 8th through the end of 2018 he hit .301/.359/.566 in Triple-A over 192 plate appearances. Knowing what we know now, that seems silly. But at the time there was some risk that the Reds were taking that maybe other teams wouldn’t notice just how different, and good that VanMeter had been over the final two months of the year in Triple-A.
Turns out the Reds got real lucky when it comes to Josh VanMeter and the Rule 5 draft twice. The first time was when they made a selection in the Rule 5 draft for the Padres in December 2016. In return the Reds picked up VanMeter from San Diego. Then having all of the other 29 teams decide that he wasn’t worth picking up and giving a shot in the Majors to start the year last December to end the Winter Meetings was the other.
When it comes to Aristides Aquino, he had obviously struggled in Double-A when he was non-tendered. As John Fay wrote over the weekend, for a short period of time, he was a minor league free agent in the offseason. That was very short lived. He signed in less than a day with the Reds after he was non-tendered. He mentioned to Fay that he wanted to remain a Red, but any team could have offered him a Major League deal and it probably would have gotten him to go there (he could have been optioned to the minors even if he signed such a deal). But that didn’t happen. And with hindsight, it’s great for the Reds that it didn’t.
There was a little bit of luck involved with not losing Aristides Aquino. The struggles in Double-A were very real. While other teams were likely interested in his services due to the big time power potential, and his laser-rocket arm, his performance at the plate probably wasn’t going to make another team go wild and make a big-time offer for his services. There was probably a bit more luck involved with retaining Josh VanMeter. While the overall numbers in Triple-A last year were solid, but unspectacular. But down the stretch he crushed the ball as a 23-year-old at the highest level of the minors. He also showed that he could play multiple positions. Somehow he was hidden in plain sight.
As they say (whoever they are?!): Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. But the Reds were certainly a bit lucky, at least to some extent, with both Aristides Aquino and Josh VanMeter last November and December. But they also were good.
Donnie Ecker worked with Aristides Aquino in spring training to re-work his stance at the plate. That change has led to an impressive Triple-A season where he hit 28 home runs in 78 games. And it’s now led to him setting records for home runs hit to start a career in the Major Leagues. The Reds were lucky that no one else talked Aquino into signing with them. But they were also good when it comes to the work they put in to help him tap into his potential, too. It started in the spring, and he took that to Louisville and worked with the staff there to continue with the changes.
With Josh VanMeter, the changes started when he began to try and hit the ball in the air with more frequency. He noted back in April that he made some mechanical adjustments in the second half of last season to try and do just that. And it has paid off and in a big way. The Reds were lucky no one took him in the Rule 5 draft last December. But they were good at their jobs in helping VanMeter develop into the hitter that he is today.
Being lucky helps. Being good helps. But if you can be both lucky and good? That’s the best of both worlds. The Reds certainly have to be feeling good right now with how the last 10 months have worked out. Both of these players and all parties involved are reaping the benefits of luck, good coaching, and tons of hard work put in by the players.