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No Rookie Has Ever Homered Like Aristides Aquino

Photo: Patrick McDermott (Getty)

The Reds outfielder with the cool nickname and the even cooler actual name was called up on Aug. 1 after the Reds shipped away Yasiel Puig, and he’s done nothing but hit dingers. Dinger after dinger after dinger. Here’s Monday night’s dinger:

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That followed a three-dinger Saturday. And a dinger the game before that. And before that. And before that.

Aristides Aquino, 25 years old and as recently as last winter so unheralded a prospect that the Reds dropped him from the 40-man roster and let him become a free agent, has spent the last two weeks growing into his childhood nickname: “The Punisher.” Aquino has eight home runs in his first 12 MLB games—an all-time record.

Reds manager David Bell wasn’t surprised to hear that Aquino’s start is one for the books. “A lot of us say we’ve never seen anything like it, and that would explain it—it’s never happened before.”

In fact, all eight of Aquino’s home runs have come in his last nine games, and he’s gone yard seven times in his last six—which ties an MLB rookie record. Since being called up, he’s hitting .429 with 16 RBI, with more than half of his total hits clearing the fence. Being named the National League Player of the Week somehow understates what he’s doing.

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Aquino? He’s got jokes.

“I always know that I hit the ball hard,” Aquino said Thursday through interpreter Julio Morillo. “And for the time that I’ve been here, I’ve been joking about it with my teammates telling them, ‘I’m the guy who has the most power on the team.’”

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He might’ve been more correct than he knew, but none of this was supposed to happen. An amateur free agent signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, Aquino’s path through the farm system has been choppy. He was the Reds’ minor league player of the year in 2016 at class A-advanced, but struggled mightily at double-A in 2017 and 2018, and it looked like he had topped out. Following last season, he was non-tendered before being signed on a minor-league deal.

The Reds invited Aquino to spring training, and that’s where he first met assistant hitting coach Donnie Ecker, who completely made over his swing. The Athletic describes the changes:

The most visible change they made was to Aquino’s stance. He now starts at the plate wide open, with almost his entire body facing the pitcher, his front (left) foot near the outside line of the right-handed batter’s box. While the pitcher goes through his motion, Aquino moves into a more traditional position.

[...]

Aquino said he used to hunch more and his shoulders would move down toward the ball. He’s now more fluid through the zone, with his bat taking an upward cut, keeping it in the hitting zone longer.

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Aquino’s new swing immediately paid dividends. He was hitting .299 at AAA-Louisville this season with a team-leading 28 home runs in 78 games, making him the obvious choice to be called up after the Puig trade. Earlier this month, after recording his first big-league hit and home run, Aquino offered “thanks to God for giving me the opportunity to be here, and thanks to Donnie Ecker.” In some order.

Photo: Alex Brandon (AP)
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The Reds lost Monday’s game, and are 5.5 out of a wild card spot with five teams in the way, so the postseason probably isn’t in the cards this year. But they’re set up to be potential players in 2020, and Aquino will have the opportunity to be a big part of it. It remains to be seen if his punishing August is a taste of a career to come, or just one of those late-season flashes in the pan that happen so frequently in baseball. Either way, it’s a lot of fun.

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