One night before the trade deadline, the Cincinnati Reds made a blockbuster deal with the Cleveland Indians to receive all-star pitcher Trevor Bauer, sending fan-favorite and pending free agent Yasiel Puig to Cleveland, and top prospect Taylor Trammell to the San Diego Padres.
With such a huge deal made to bolster their chances of competing in October 2020, few expected the Reds’ key acquisition from this year’s deadline to come from their Triple-A affiliate in Louisville.
And Trevor Bauer’s 7 innings, three hits, and 11 strikeouts against the Cubs on Aug. 9 could be a good sign for him in the Queen City, but that performance has paled in comparison to Puig’s replacement in right field for the Reds.
While this was not Aristides Aquino‘s first trip to the big league ball club, his first stint only saw a single at-bat, a strikeout. Earlier in 2018, he had batted .240 with Double-A Pensacola with 20 home runs, but a pedestrian .754 OPS due to his 27% strikeout rate.
Cincinnati promoted him to Triple-A Louisville for the start of the 2019 season. It was this year that the Reds saw the jump in production they were really looking for. Aquino hit eight more home runs in 110 less at-bats, raised his average nearly 60 points, and took his .448 slugging percentage in 2018 to a .638 slugging in 2019, against better competition.
To continue his upward trend through the minor league ranks, “The Punisher” has taken off in his second trip to the bigs. Through 16 games, Aquino has a .345/.390/.964 slash line with 11 home runs, 22 RBIs, and only 14 strikeouts.
His 11 home runs are a major league record through a professional’s first 17 career games. And it’s not like his home runs are courtesy of hitter-friendly GABP, either. According to FanGraphs, his first eight home runs had an average distance of 410 feet, putting him in the 84th percentile of big leaguers. All the while, he has had three home runs of over 445 feet, joining regular household names Ronald Acuna, Josh Bell, Pete Alonso, Trevor Story, Bryce Harper, Jorge Soler, and Mike Trout as players that have hit that many that far.
He also holds the hardest hit HR of the MLB season with an exit velo of 118.3 MPH. And this was all in his first 11 games of this year!
Wins Above Replacement is used to determine a player’s value to his team’s success on the field. It is a cumulative stat, meaning the more games a player has played only allows for more wins to be added. With that being said, Aquino’s 1.2 wins above replacement in 16 games with Cincinnati this year is considerably higher than the 0.7 wins that Puig contributed in his 100 games in a Reds uniform.
Now, I’d be lying if I didn’t expect some regression here. He has just one double, despite all of the home runs, and has taken a base on balls just four times since joining the Reds.
Possibly one of Aquino’s biggest assets to the Reds is his controllability. Aquino will now be under team control for the next six full seasons, which is part of the reason the team shipped off Puig in the first place, getting value for him in the likely case he was going to cash in elsewhere. Ownership looks to be taking a shot at contending in these next five years, and having “The Punisher” on board will go a long way in the team being able to spend those big bucks elsewhere.
It’s tough to put a ton of expectations on a kid that is balling out in a season that likely won’t last past September, but Aquino has assuredly punched his ticket on the Opening Day roster next year. Barring injury, he should be expected as the starting right fielder to begin the season for the Reds.
The Reds should expect Aquino, Jessie Winker, and Nick Senzel in the outfield. Eugenio Suarez and Joey Votto at the infield corners. An opening trio of starters in Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray. And possibly $30-40 million to play with in the free agent market. With Aquino locking up his spot in the starting nine, that’s money that can be spent to upgrade somewhere else.
Who knows what this could be the start of for “The Punisher”, but it’s undoubtedly brought life to a fan base that has been uninterested in baseball come August since the club last made the playoffs in 2013.