CINCINNATI -- No one, ever, in the history of Major League Baseball, has reached a double-digit home run total faster than Reds rookie sensation Aristides Aquino.
As Cincinnati trailed 12-1 to the Cardinals in the sixth inning on their way to a 13-4 loss Friday at Great American Ball Park, Aquino clobbered an Adam Wainwright cutter, launching it to left field for his 10th homer in 16 career big league games -- including 15 games played in 2019.
“Not the pitch I’m trying to make, but not a horrible pitch. It’s in the down, outer third quadrant. But he’s a talented player,” Wainwright said. “There’s scouting reports out now, and as that goes, I don’t think he’ll hit 10 homers in every 16 games for the rest of his career. But it might be fun to watch. But certainly, a talented young player coming up, and I know Cincinnati’s excited to have him.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Aquino broke Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins' previous record. Hoskins had nine homers in his first 16 games.
“I don’t limit what I think he’s able to do,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He works hard and has a really good understanding of what he’s doing at the plate -- not only in his approach, but he knows himself really well for a young player. He’s a young player, but his ups and downs have taught him a lot. He’s experienced in a lot of ways.”
Even with Aquno's Minor League reputation for power and size, few could have expected him to produce this way, this quickly. Signed as a 16-year-old in 2011 out of the Dominican Republic, he toiled for eight years in the Reds' system before he was called up from Double-A Pensacola and had one at-bat last season.
Reds teammate and rotation ace Luis Castillo faced Aquino in Class A Advanced in 2016 when he was in the Marlins' organization, before the two became teammates in ’17 at Pensacola.
“He’s always been a really big guy, a really strong guy,” Castillo said via translator Julio Morillo. “When I faced him in High-A, he got me pretty good with a line drive that was like 120-mph exit velocity.”
Cincinnati non-tendered Aquino on Nov. 30, but re-signed him to a Minor League contract the following day and invited him to Spring Training as a non-roster player. Connecting with a new Reds coaching staff proved fruitful, as assistant hitting coach Donnie Ecker began offering suggestions that Aquino heeded.
The biggest change was to Aquino’s batting stance, which is now open to the pitch before he closes it just as the pitch is delivered. It helps him see the ball longer. It paid off this season at Triple-A Louisville, where Aquino batted .299 with a .992 OPS, including 28 homers and 53 RBIs.
Aquino was recalled on Aug. 1 to play right field following the trade of Yasiel Puig to Cleveland in a three-team trade that brought aboard Trevor Bauer. Aquino is batting .353 with a 1.361 OPS and 19 RBIs through his first 16 games.
“The other thing is his personality is very calm, easy going, competitive and it’s a good mix of being able to be consistent, it looks like. It’s fun to watch,” Bell said.
Among other feats already achieved in Aquino’s short career:
• Last Saturday vs. the Cubs, Aquino slugged three homers and became the first Major League rookie and first Reds player to homer in three consecutive innings. He is only the 13th player to achieve such a feat.
• On Aug. 8 vs. the Cubs’ Cole Hamels, Aquino’s two-run homer had a 118.3 mph exit velocity. It was the hardest-hit ball by a Reds player since Statcast started tracking such data in 2015. It tied him with Gary Sanchez and Pete Alonso for the hardest-hit homer in the Majors this season.
• On Monday, Aquino was named the National League’s Player of the Week.
Reds teammates have been genuinely happy for Aquino’s success.
“When I see my position players doing really good on the field, it makes me happy too,” said Castillo, who gave up a career-high eight earned runs in 4 1/3 innings Friday. “They are doing what they are supposed to be doing out there, getting base hits, hitting homers. Even if I didn’t have a really good game, it makes me happy that they’re doing a really good job out there.”
Less thrilled have been Aquino’s opposing pitchers and their managers. But the quest is only beginning for teams to try to figure how to keep Aquino’s hits from leaving the ballpark.
“We’re starting to familiarize with him, clearly he’s got some ability,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’ll continue to evaluate and compete against him, gameplan for him like everyone else, but he’s obviously off to a great start to his career. Got some real raw power, for sure.”