It has been a completely, full-circle whirlwind calendar year for Aristides Aquino. Which is fitting because his career has been a full journey so far and he is still so young.
First, the 25-year-old Reds outfielder fell out of the MLB Pipeline top 30 organizational prospects to start the season, after being ranked number six in 2017. Much of this freefall, was due to his severe lack of power in the ’17 campaign, as Aquino posted just a .678 OPS and a .210 batting average. It was his second sub .700 OPS season in the previous three, which gave the impression that he was trending in that direction, and that his .846 OPS in the 2016 season may have been a mirage.
While his 2018 season was not overly impressive, he was at least able to rebound and post a .754 OPS. However, he still only hit .240. The great news for Aquino was that he was added to the 40-man roster to avoid a possible Rule 5 draft selection in 2016. Due to this, Aquino got an opportunity to put on a Reds uniform and debuted just over a year ago on August 19 and got one at bat.
“Everything that I have worked for in the past (was worth it),” Aquino told me earlier in the year. “It was working hard every day to get better. It was so exciting.”
The bad news is that Aquino was removed from the 40-man roster and granted free agency when the season wrapped up. For Aquino, there was never any doubt where he was going to end up, and he resigned with the Reds two days after becoming a free agent.
“The Reds treat me like I am part of this family,” Aquino said.
Following his decision to return, the work started to get Aquino to where he could continue his dream that was accomplished just the season before. Aquino completely reworked his swing. He adopted a much more open stance to the pitcher as a start. He shortened his swing and his high leg kick that generated his major power in the past. However, it also made him more susceptible to slumps and missing the solid contact that he needed.
With these changes, Aquino came into the Spring as a different hitter. The changes paid off as well, as he was a camp invitee and hit .360 with a 1.007 OPS in 25 at bats. Aquino rode that momentum into Triple-A this season, where he hit .299 with a .992 OPS and 28 home runs in 294 at bats. All three of those are career highs. The manager of Louisville, the Reds top affiliate, Jody Davis, has a front-row seat to Aquino’s changes, as he saw them in the Spring, but he has also worked with the slugger the past two seasons in the Minor Leagues.
“(Aquino) is no doubt becoming a more rounded hitter,” Davis said. “He is going from having a big, high leg kick to last year, he spread out a little bit more. He kept his head still and just wasn’t getting fooled as much. He has altered that just a little bit this year. He is a little more open and a little further off the plate. It is just one of things where, over time, you tweak and tweak. He has found something that works for him and he is swinging the bat really well.”
The two swings are compared in the below videos:
Both off the field and in the box, Davis has seen some real progressions from Aquino as he is advancing as a professional hitter.
“Anytime that you take a young kid, who is immature, but all the tools are there, you just have to keep coming along every day,” Davis said. “Then the experience shows up and they are not quite as excitable, more mature, and things start happening.”
On Wednesday, following the trade of Yasiel Puig, Aquino came all of the way back and reached the pinnacle of his profession again with another promotion to Cincinnati. He knows just how difficult that it is to get there and now he knows the work to stay there.
“My mind was not to get to the big leagues because it is hard,” Aquino said of his initial baseball goals. “I was working to play for a professional team. Then I worked hard to get to the big leagues, but it is really hard.”
Combined with the development of Aquino and the quick rise of Josh VanMeter and Phillip Ervin, the Reds have had a huge year in progressing young hitters to where they need to be to succeed in the big leagues. It also got them to the point of flexibility to where they could deal a slugger like Puig and get even better in the rotation.
Only time will tell of Aquino is able to stick in Cincinnati, but he has certainly put in all of the work to complete his storybook baseball year.