Rookie Aristides Aquino has Reds fans buzzing

Jeff Neal

I'll have to admit, I was a little down when my Cincinnati Reds traded Yasiel Puig.

I mean, we knew he was basically a rent-a-player. His contract was up at the end of the season and the odds were against the Reds re-signing him.

Puig was a fun guy to watch -- his talent is immense. And he certainly had his teammates' backs. But, even as his power numbers increased, the Reds made the deal.

Cincinnati brought in starting pitcher Trevor Bauer from Cleveland, which provided some consolation as we look toward the future.

And, oh yeah, they promoted a 25-year-old rookie named Aristides Aquino from Class AAA Louisville.

As it turns out, Aquino has been a pretty good replacement for Puig in right field. As a matter of fact, the young man has put up historic numbers since being inserted into the lineup less than two weeks ago.

In 12 games, the lanky outfielder has belted eight home runs -- a MLB record for a player in his first dozen contests. That includes a three-home run game last week against the Cubs. And he hasn't even appeared on a Topps baseball card yet.

Aquino was the National League Player of the Week last week, after hitting a smoking hot .500 with an absurd slugging percentage of 1.364 and 30 total bases in just six games.

So, you might ask, why on earth wasn't Aquino on the roster all along?

Well, he was far from a sure thing. And just two years ago, the Reds very nearly gave him his walking papers.

In 2017 in Class AA ball, Aquino hit just .216 and struck out a whopping 146 times. Clearly 2018 was a make or break year -- and he did enough to keep the Reds' brass interested. But Aquino began making real strides this season as he moved up to Louisville. After re-tooling his batting stance, he hit .299 with 28 homers in 78 games.

So when Puig was dealt, Aquino got the call. Ironically, he didn't figure to replace Puig as the top right-handed option in right field -- at least, not right away. Phillip Ervin -- hitting .355 in limited appearances this season -- seemed to be the logical choice for that role.

Aquino, however, has handled MLB pitching in magnificent fashion. The concern, as it is so often with young sluggers, was his ability to hit breaking balls and off-speed pitches. To date, 19 of his at bats have ended against either a changeup, curve, or slider, and he's a combined 9 for 19 against those offerings with four home runs.

Does that mean pitchers around the NL won't come up with a different way to challenge him? No, they will come at him from all angles. Aquino has everyone's attention -- he's now an offensive player to be reckoned with. But history is dotted with young sluggers who have lit the world on fire for a short time only to flame out.

Aquino, however, seems to have the tools to stick around and do some damage for a long time. The kid hits the ball hard -- and far -- and those things could make him a superstar at the smallish Great American Ballpark.

I'm more excited about Aquino than I have been about any Reds rookie in ages.

The young man who wears No. 44 -- and does remind you a little bit of another Reds No. 44, Eric Davis, at the plate -- has not only grabbed the headlines the past few days, but he has become the poster child of what could be a Reds team headed toward contention.

They won't make the playoffs this season. But in 2020, with a solid lineup and perhaps the best starting pitching in the NL Central, you can look for the Reds to make a push toward a division title.

I can't wait to see what a Reds lineup that features Aquino and fellow youngsters Nick Senzel, Josh VanMeter and Jesse Winker can produce over the course of a full season.

After years of disappointment, this Reds fan sees light at the end of the tunnel.

JEFF NEAL is the editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at jneal@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.

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