We all remember the route that someone like Joey Gallo took to become the player who he is now (sans the injury). While consistently a top prospect the three years prior to become a big leaguer, it wasn’t like it was a secret what his biggest weakness was: his hit tool.
Not by coincidence, he had a .209 and .206 batting average in his first two full seasons with the Rangers. A more simplified approach at the plate brought his average up 50 points, and thus his overall value, but it was by no means (and isn’t even one in the future) a sure thing.
Which makes the emergence of Aristides Aquino, new rookie on the scene for the Cincinnati Reds, exponentially more fascinating. Aquino, unlike Gallo, was not rated as a top prospect, nor was he a first-rounder, instead signed as an international free agent to a—I’m assuming, because it’s undisclosed—small amount. Across nearly eight years in the minors, he hit just .250/.309/.458, and was described by Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen just this past December as a 30 bat.
Now, this is of course a question, firstly, of the overall accuracy of scouting in general. While I generally believe there was visual evidence that Aquino had little command of the strike zone, he was not striking out more than 30% of the time at any level, while at the same time hitting home runs at a pace of roughly 26 home runs per 162 games, which was pre-minor league Juiced Ball and before a major adjustment that I’ll get to.
So, did we miss something, or did we not? I guess the point is irrelevant, because a lot of the reason we’re talking about him right now is because of adjustments he made that put him on a significantly different track. Cataloged in The Athletic by the great C. Trent Rosecrans, Aquinos’ swing was revamped by Reds assistant coach Donnie Ecker and Latin American field coordinator Joel Noboa. They did this by making his stance incredibly simple—open, standing straight up, and with his bat in the zone for as long as possible. It is also best shown in this Mike Petriello comparing 2018 and 2019:
So, Aristides Aquino: .636 SLG, 28 AAA HR. Now 7 hits (2 HR) in his first 17 MLB PA.— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) August 7, 2019
Hit balls 111 MPH (single) and 108.9 (HR) last night.
Apparently fueled by stance/swing change (@ctrent: https://t.co/jy9esywB2a) and man, does he make it easy to eyeball: pic.twitter.com/uplu2m4xB3
The result was a Triple-A season in which he earned the nickname “The Punisher,” and hit .299/.356/.636 with the newly introduced minor league Juiced Ball. After getting the call after Joey Votto was put on the IL, he finally got his chance to shine, and shine he did. For the first time since Trevor Story, he hit the most home runs of anyone in their first ten games, culminating in a three-home run game on Saturday:
Again, not even ten games into his career, he has eight batted balls of 100+ mph. His third home run had an exit velocity of 118.3 mph, and only three (!!) batters have a single batted ball event that high: Gary Sanchez, Pete Alonso, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Need I say more? I’m sure pitchers will adjust and his actual batted ball issues could resurface when the league adjusts, but I still like to follow the maxim that if a player can produce single events that significant, it’s very likely they aren’t total flukes. For a Reds team with a lot of things going for them and a lot of promise, this could change the formula entirely.