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2019 Season in Review: Aristides Aquino


On August 1, 2019, Aristides Aquino was called up by the Cincinnati Reds. Shortly thereafter, bedlam broke out. He hit 11 home runs in his first 63 at-bats, drove in 22 runs, and caused the internet to flood with The Punisher GIFs and newly made t-shirts.

When the month of August came to a close, Aquino had hit .320 with a .391 on-base percentage, a .767 slugging percentage, and 14 home runs. He was everybody's favorite breakout player with the unique stance and the mammoth displays of power. He became such a cult hero that few people noticed when he began to slip up. In September, Aquino floundered with a tiple-slash of .196/.236/.382, while hitting five bombs. So, as we approach the 2020 MLB season, which Aquino seems more likely to show up?

 

A Power Monster With Sneaky Speed?

Let's start with what's most obvious: Aquino's power is real. You don't hit 28 home runs in Triple-A and 19 in only 56 Major League Baseball games unless your bat has juice. It wasn't a one-year thing either. Aquino hit 20 HR at AA in 2018 and 23 in High-A in 2016. He was 29th in the league last year (100 batted ball minimum) with a barrel percentage of 13.6 and 25th with a barrels-per-plate appearance percentage of 8.9. The power is legit, and he should be a lock to produce 30+ if he remains in the Reds starting lineup for much of the season, which is another factor working in Aquino's favor.

As of right now, the only competition Aquino has for at-bats in the corner outfield is Jesse Winker, journeyman Phillip Ervin, and newly-signed Shogo Akiyama, who is a complete unknown. It's not out of the question for Aquino to push for 600 plate appearances, which should be more than enough for him to approach 40 long balls and possibly 100 RBI if he hits near the middle of an order that will feature Winker, Nick Senzel, Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto, and Mike Moustakas.

However, where his top-end value may really lie is in his 89th percentile sprint speed. Aquino stole seven bases in seven attempts during his 56 games with the Reds and five in AAA before that. It seems realistic to expect 15 steals from him if he pushes for 600 plate appearances and possibly even 20 or above if the Reds get more aggressive on the basepaths, after finishing 12th in the league with 80 steals last year.

All of that means that, if you're optimistic or just love wide-open stances and Marvel nicknames, you could slot Aquino onto your team and be looking at a .250 average with 40 HR, 100 RBI, and 15-20 SB. That's not too shabby.

 

Or a Three-True-Outcome Replaceable Bat?

On the other hand, you could be looking at some empty power stats and a spot on the bench. The downside of Aquino's projection is that he's likely not going to hit for average. He had a .249 xBA last year, despite his torrid start, and made soft contact 20.4% of the time. That's paired with a strikeout rate that has always been a little high. His 26.7% rate during his 56 games with the Reds is worrisome but can be explained away a little by him being a rookie in his first taste of the big leagues. However, the concern is that he had a 25.1% strikeout rate at AAA last year, a 25.2% rate in AA in 2017, and a 28.8% rate in AA in 2016. Those strikeouts aren't going to go away.

He's also not really going to walk a lot, which means he doesn't have that third outcome locked in. The highest walk rate of his career was 9% in his rookie ball year in 2013, and last year, despite showing impressive power, he was only able to work a 7.1% walk rate in both AAA and Cincinnati.

Also, for a player with a max exit velocity of 118.3, which was second highest in the league last year, he has a surprisingly low average exit velocity of 87.9., which was good for 243rd in the league. He's saved a bit by his 18.2-degree launch angle which keeps him in line with sluggers like Matt Olson, Eric Thames, and Justin Upton and, because Aquino plays at a hitter's park, is able to salvage some additional home runs.

That means his low-end projection is an average around .230 with 30 HR, 80 RBI, and 10 stolen bases, provided that he keeps getting regular at-bats all season.

 

2020 Outlook

Aquino remains a mystery, but one thing I feel confident in is that you're not getting the August version of The Punisher throughout an entire season. There will be plenty of cold streaks. The strikeout rate is too high and the walk rate is too low for him to avoid the doldrums. Those will likely result in days on the bench, which could be problematic if Akiyama proves to be a real player. Senzel is locked into at-bats in centerfield, and Winker, when healthy, has been too productive to take off the field, which means Aquino could be in a short-side platoon situation with Akiyama.

I personally think Aquino seems likely for 500 plate appearances, which means I'd pencil him in for 30-35 home runs and 10 stolen bases. That's certainly worth a spot on any fantasy team's roster, but you need to make sure you balance out his batting average, which will likely remain somewhere around .240.

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