For most people “The Punisher” is a nickname for Marvel’s anti-hero Frank Castle. But for the Cincinnati Reds, that name is reserved for their rookie right fielder Aristides Aquino. When the Reds traded Yasiel Puig and their second-best prospect, outfielder Taylor Trammel, in a deal that got them Cleveland Indians’ starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, it raised the question: Who would be Puig’s replacement? But unbeknown to most of the baseball world, a 25-year-old electric factory with an arm like Puig and a knack for crushing baseballs would be knocking on the front door.
The Reds signed Aquino as an international free agent in 2011 out of the Dominican Prospect League, when he was just 17 years old. He held an overall scout grade of 45, with a 45-grade hit tool, 55-grade power, 55-grade speed, 50-grade fielding, and a 70-grade arm. He had long been known within the Reds’ farm system as a prospect with great raw tools who had not yet fully put them together. In 2018, Aquino disappointed in Double-A when he hit .240/.306/.448 with 20 doubles and 20 homers across 404 at-bats. Nonetheless, he made his major league debut on August 19th, 2018 registering just one plate appearance. He struck out. After re-signing with the Reds during the winter of 2018, Aquino made a few adjustments at the plate and was ready for his performance to take off. He entered the season as Cincinnati’s 19th-ranked prospect and began with the Louisville Bats, the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate. Aquino played 78 games with the Bats while slashing .299/.356/.636 with 28 homers, a .992 OPS, .405 wOBA, and 142 wRC+. Before being called up, Aquino was ranked first in the International League in SLG and second in both home runs and OPS, trailing only current major leaguers Adam Duvall (29) and Mike Ford (1.007), respectively.
Cincinnati called up Aristides Aquino on August 1st, immediately slotting him into right field versus the Atlanta Braves. Two days later he recorded his first major league hit, a line-drive single to center field, and hit his first big league home run, a two-run shot off Dallas Keuchel. Since then, Aquino has erased any doubts about his talent or whether his power would translate in the big leagues. In nine games and 30 plate appearances at the major league level, Aquino is hitting .464/.500/1.250 with seven homers, a .683 wOBA and 332 wRC+. Those aren’t typos… he’s been THAT good. This includes his most recent performance, where he hit three homers in one night against the Cubs, matching Rockies’ shortstop Trevor Story for the most home runs in a player’s first 10 games. To add to his historic accolades, Aquino’s three-homer night made him the first rookie in major league history to homer in three consecutive innings and just the second player ever to have a three-homer game in his first 10 games. However, Aquino’s minor league power isn’t the only thing that followed him to the majors—his nickname did too.
Aquino’s spine-chilling nickname was handed to him by his brother when they were growing up together, but it quickly caught on throughout his baseball career as he began hitting the cover off of baseballs. Since being called up, Aquino has done more of the same by absolutely pounding the baseball. Of his 19 batted balls this year, eight of them have an exit velocity that exceeds 99 mph. His hardest hit ball was this two-run homer off Cole Hamels that was recorded at 118.3 mph! It tied the MLB-high for hardest-hit homer that Statcast has recorded this year. Don’t blink or you might miss it!
The sample size is small with Aquino so there is not a lot of data to go off of, but we can still look at what he’s done thus far and try to make some sense of his success. First, Aquino is a free-swinger. Even in AAA, Aquino had a K-rate of 25.1% and a BB-rate of just 7.1%. He has seen 116 total pitches for the Reds and swung at 68 of them, over 58%. If we take a look at this plate discipline, it shows more of the same aggressive approach.
He’s seeing 37.1% of pitches inside the zone and swinging at 81.4% of them. Of those swings on pitches inside the zone he is making contact 77.1% of the time. However, he is also swinging at pitches out of the zone 43.6% of the time, making contact 57.6% of the time on those pitches. Although the high percentage of swings outside the zone may be worrisome, it’s exciting to see a Hard-Hit rate of 63.2% from Aquino. So far it seems like pitchers have tried to attack Aquino by throwing low and away, probably in an attempt to get the 6’4″ outfielder to chase.
But what seems to be rather impressive, is how often Aquino has been able to lay off of these pitches in that area.
He still chases some of them, but he is taking them a lot more often than not. Perhaps this is a sign that his plate discipline may improve. Again, it’s way too early, and the sample size is way too small, to tell if this swing-first approach will lead to regression or further success. For now it’s just interesting to see that MLB pitching hasn’t intimidated The Punisher.
The Swing Change
What might be the most interesting thing about Aquino, besides the home runs, is how extremely open and unorthodox his batting stance is. In fact, when you compare it to the stance he had last year, the difference is drastic.
Here we see Aquino in a stance that almost looks slightly closed off. He doesn’t have a leg kick, but instead a toe-down swing. But in this year’s stance, we see Aquino much more upright, and way more open. On top of the stance, he now has a big leg kick that he uses to pummel baseballs into orbit (like seen in the GIF). It’s a complete 180 in how he stands and swings in the batters box.
In an era where hitting the ball hard is more important than ever, it’s probably safe to assume that Aquino’s more consistent power is a product of his new swing. We’ve seen numerous times the benefits of generating more power with a leg kick, but in many cases, a leg kick also helps to create better timing for the hitter. In fact, Aquino even said this for himself. In an article by MLB’s Mark Sheldon, Aquino was asked about the effect of his new swing and he said “I changed my stance, so I could be better at recognizing the pitches. That helped me to have more balance and see better pitches.” He continued with, “I’ve got better balance in my body. It helps me to hit the ball.” Aquino’s 2019 success has derived from his swing adjustments and has helped him refine his raw tools into talent that is deserving of a nickname like The Punisher.
The power-hitting slugger is now owned in 61% of Yahoo leagues but just 10.4% of ESPN leagues. If there’s one thing certain about Aquino, it’s that his power is legit. If your team is struggling to leave the ballpark stop what you’re doing and quickly add him. With a juice-filled bat and a badass nickname, Aristides Aquino needs to be in your lineup.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)