From Mount Olympus, Aquino arrives

Aristides Aquino, who got his first major league hit this month, hit 11 home runs in 16 games for the Cincinnati Reds. (photo by Mike Morrow)

His very name sounds like that of a Greek god.

Aristides Aquino stands 6-4, a lean 220 pounds. Born in the Dominican Republic, he is 25 years old. That makes him something of a prototype of a rising star in baseball, akin to Fernando Tatis Jr., 6-3, 185, age 20; or Eloy Jiminez, 6-4, 205, age 22; or even Aaron Judge, 6-7, 282, age 27.

And yet, everyone seems to have heard of those young stars. They did not come out of nowhere like Aquino.

Nowhere? Let’s see, the Cincinnati Reds rookie outfielder, who saw a grand total of one at-bat as a rookie in 2018, and has now played 16 games for the Reds this season, began playing in the Dominican Summer League in 2011, and toiled in relative anonymity through the Reds farm system, playing in Billings, Dayton, Daytona, Pensacola and Louisville on his way to Cincinnati.

And since he arrived in the majors this season, Aquino has hit 11 home runs in only 16 games. The only thing outpacing his home run tally are the historical comparisons that have come by the day.

Let’s see. Only Mike Schmidt, the Hall of Famer for the Philadelphia Phillies, hit 11 home runs faster in as few plate appearances as Aquino. Schmidt reached 11 homers in 56 appearances, Aquino in 58.

Only two other rookies have hit 10 home runs in an 11-game span, as Aquino has. They were Cody Bellinger in 2017 and Rudy York in 1937. There are still 13 days remaining in August. Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs holds the record for most home runs in a month with 20, another one of the faux records along the lines of Barry Bonds‘ 73 homers in a season. Aquino has a shot at Sosa’s mark. The Reds’ record for a month is 14, held by Frank Robinson and Greg Vaughn.

So just where has Aquino been on the radar of baseball prospects? In 2017, he was ranked sixth among the Reds’ top prospects, according to the MLB Pipeline. Last year, he wasn’t even in the Reds’ top 30. Last November, he briefly became a free agent before the Reds signed him to a minor league contract.

The 2017 account of Aquino said, “His raw power is off the charts, and he’s shown the ability to drive the ball to all fields. The one thing that has held him back as a hitter at times has been his pitch selection and plate discipline, something he focused on during instructs last fall.”

This year, Baseball America began the season with Aquino ranked the Reds’ 21st best prospect, saying, “Over-aggressivness has long been Aquino’s issue.”

That report added, “He doesn’t make a lot of quality contact, mostly because he has a tendency to chase and expand the strike zone.”

So what has happened to make Aquino the hottest hitter in baseball? Most accounts point to the adjustment in his stance, which already makes him an awkward-looking batter. His stance is as open as any player in memory, even more open than Dick McAuliffe of the Tigers in the 1960s. Aquino stands almost face-forward, feet-forward, getting two good eyes on the pitcher and the baseball before moving into his swing.

For sure, it is hard to get a better look at the ball, and it begins to beg the question why every batter doesn’t begin with such a good look at the pitcher. It’s a safe bet that even today, from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to the sandlots of America, young players are trying their luck with the Aquino stance.

If there is a Reds prospect that fits the Aquino mold, it may be the first baseman Ibandel Isabel, who has played this season in Class AA Chattanooga. He doesn’t have the wide-open stance of Aquino, but Isabel, 6-4, 225, 24 years old and also from the Dominican Republic, leads the Southern League with 26 home runs.

Eleven home runs in 16 games all but off the charts. The pace will not last, although big-league baseball is in a world of home runs the likes of which it has never seen before. At some point, opponents will find Aquino’s weakness. He may have solved the problem of chasing the breaking ball away, but pitchers will find his new weakness. They always do.

Aquino will, at some point, cool off. For the moment, he has filled the power vacuum left by the exit of Yasiel Puig for Cleveland. How long this sort of runs lasts will be told in relatively short order.

If this surge of power continues, Aristides Aquino will not only belong in the higher echelons of baseball’s great sluggers, he will indeed sit among the mightiest of those Greek gods. Baseball, however, usually brings players back down to size.

Categories: Reds/Cards/Braves

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