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Aristides Aquino - Man or Myth?


You may not know how to pronounce his name but it would be near-impossible to have not heard of him by now:

ARR -i-STY-Deez. A-KEE-noh. SMASH-er of BAYS-bawlz.

Saying that Cincinnati rookie Aristides Aquino has kind of been on fire, is like saying that Jon Hamm is kind of handsome... A statement that is technically true but falls well short in describing the overall magnitude. Since being called up on August 1, Aquino has seemingly transcended his human form, becoming fire itself. A human torch who now uses a fully open stance to better see the poor pitcher who is about to serve him up another fat meatball. But is this for real? Not as in continuing this impossible pace but rather does his start justify leveling Aquino up in terms of what is now considered possible for this year and beyond?

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Origin Story

In terms of awesomeness, the numbers speak for themselves; in his first 63 plate-appearances, Aquino has gone into full videogame-mode, hitting 11 home runs in his first 17 games, eclipsing Rhys Hoskin's 2017 record for the fewest amount of games to reach that mark. Aquino also needed the second-fewest plate appearances ever (58) to reach 11 HR, with only Mike Schmidt's 56 PA being faster. Since arriving in Cincinnati his 1.327 OPS is third-best in baseball and his .930 SLG is first. En. Fuego.

For those that follow prospects, Aristides isn't an unknown. The six-foot-four outfielder has been considered one of Cincinnati's top-10 prospects for a few years, even winning the player of the year award in the Florida State League in 2016. Aristides could always hit the ball a so-called country-mile but as it often is with sluggers in the low levels of the minors, that big power came with big holes in his swing that more advanced pitchers took advantage of after the Reds sent Aquino to Double-A in 2017. In 504 plate-appearances that year, Aquino only hit 17 home runs with a .219 AVG and while 2018 was better, he still only posted a .240 AVG with a 25.2% K-rate as a 24-year old repeating the level. So after two uninspiring seasons at Double-A, our hero was subsequentially dropped to his lowest depths when the Reds non-tendered him in November in a roster reshuffling before quickly re-signing him to a minor-league contract the next day.

Cincinnati may have still been interested in Aquino but he nevertheless entered this spring a career crossroads, because at 25-years old it was time for Aquino to either put up or shut up and melt away into the fog of minor league mediocrity. But sometimes all a superhero-to-be needs is a muse to help him find his way.  Enter, Donnie Ecker. An assistant hitting coach for the Reds, Ecker had first seen Aquino in 2016 when he was working in the St. Louis organization, including a game where he smashed two home runs against Ecker's Palm Beach Cardinals. And so when he started working with him in spring, Ecker told Aquino what he had first thought about him in 2016; that Aquino was special, with game-changing potential in his bat...They just needed to figure out how to unlock it. To find the key to transforming him into a hitter worthy of the nickname first bestowed on him by his older brother when Aquino was just a 12-year old kid in the Dominican Republic.

 

The Punisher

Aquino and Ecker got to work all through spring, completely reworking the beginning of the slugger's stance. In year's past, Aquino had a traditional closed stance, only utilizing a toe-tap at the beginning. But with an eye on getting him able to see the pitcher as best as he could, Aquino and Ecker eventually cracked his stance wide open, with his back foot slanted at a 45-degree angle towards the plate, while his front foot starts all the way in the back-left corner of the batter's box. Once the pitch is thrown, Aquino does a high leg-kick as he transitions into a more traditional stance. Aquino now felt more comfortable with how he saw the pitcher, and good results swiftly followed.

The dramatic change took complete hold during spring, so Aquino wisely took it with him to his Triple-A assignment, continuing to work on its mechanics with many members of the Red's minor-league staff over the course of the season. But the real proof of his work was in the pudding, as Aquino lit his new level on fire with prodigious power, hitting 28 home runs in 323 plate appearances, with a .636 SLG and .337 ISO. With Aquino absolutely crushing lasers, it was an obvious move to see what he could do on the big stage once the Reds traded away Yasiel Puig at the deadline.

That question was quickly answered: punish.

 

But Will the Sequel Disappoint?

Putting his aforementioned rookie-records aside, Aquino's first 67 plate-appearances have been remarkable, with 11 of his 19 hits leaving the yard. After back-to-back 0-4 games, he's dropped to a .319 AVG with a 23.9% K-rate but is also running a little low on luck, running a .242 BABIP. And don't let his mundane 86.5 MPH average exit-velocity fool you, because what really stands out is how Aquino seems to treat baseballs like they owe him money, over and over punching them square in the mouth.

44 batted-ball events on the season don't qualify him for any Statcast Leaderboards, but his 14.9% barrel/PA would lead the league over known smashers of baseballs, Nelson Cruz and Gary Sanchez, while his 22.7% Brl/BBE rate would be second only to Joey Gallo. So while his .567 ISO and .496 wOBA are both ridiculous numbers, they're at least understandable considering Aquino's ability to square the ball up so far in this small sample. And this isn't just a case of a rookie feasting on fastballs either, as Aquino has seen fewer and fewer of those, thus far composing only 40% of the total pitches he's seen.

There are few decisions to be made for owners in redraft leagues where the trade deadline has passed. If he stays hot, then many of his owners may ride him to titles. If he dramatically cools off, then it will be easy to bench a guy who likely wasn't on your team three weeks ago. But dynasty owners will have more interesting decisions to make because - barring a complete fall of the cliff - Aquino will likely be a hot commodity in the offseason. But should you sell high before the bubble bursts, or watch him grow into a bull who runs through the market?

It won't be like it's been, he will slow down quite a bit. But regardless of the next six weeks, it cannot be denied that a dramatic swing change has coincided with a dramatic change in his results, first in 323 plate-appearances in Triple-A and now for 67 PA in the big leagues. So a large, athletic player has seemingly used a mechanical change to transmute his loud tools into actionable skills? If so, that is an asset that should hold premium value when comes time to assess your dynasty portfolio.

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