In a little more than a half-season with the Cincinnati Reds, Yasiel Puig became one of the most popular players on the team, a real fan favorite and man of bulging biceps.
So everyone was down in the dumps two weeks ago when Puig was suddenly dealt to the Cleveland Indians for starter Trevor Bauer.
Well, now we know why the Reds were willing to send Puig so quickly on his way. They had a player in the minor leagues ready to take his place in right field.
If you don’t already know his name, we’d like to introduce you to Reds rookie Aristides Aquino. His friends call him “The Punisher.” Gee, we wonder why?
On Monday in Washington, Aquino became the first player in Major League history to hit eight home runs in his first 11 career games. No. 8 was a moon shot in the top of the eighth inning against Washington starter Tanner Rainey. Aquino redirected some 98 mph heat, dumping it over the fence in right center.
Aquino, who is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, is currently hitting .429 with eight home runs and 16 RBIs. All eight blasts are within the Reds past nine games, and he has hit seven times in his six. So it was no surprise the National League named him their player of the week. Hey, at this pace, player of the month doesn’t seem too far from his reach.
The Elias Sports Bureau tell us that by hitting seven homers in his last six games, Aquino tied Colorado’s Trevor Story for the most by a rookie since 1900.
“I think it’s the timing,” Aquino said through an interpreter on Monday. “It’s the perfect timing, and God has a plan. I just want to go out there and do the best that I can do.”
Aquino also has 15 hits and has scored 11 runs. He has at least one RBI in his last seven games. The club record for consecutive games with an RBI belongs to Hall of Famer Joe Morgan (10 in 1976).
In a season of up and downs, and lefts and rights (their battles with the Pirates have been epic), Reds manager David Bell can’t get enough of his newest player.
“A lot of us say we’ve never seen anything like it, and that would explain it,” said Bell. “It’s never happened before. We’ve been talking about him now, and the great thing is, with the success, just the way he’s handling it, just his maturity level, he’s handled it with a lot of poise, and we believe in him. We believe that he’s going to keep going.”
Aquino’s debut mirrors that of Houston’s Yordan Alvarez, who hit seven homers in his first 12 games. Alvarez hit three on Saturday in a 23-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
There seemed nothing in Aquino’s Triple-A mere-mortal resume (.299 with 28 homers in 78 games) that could have predicted his mighty blast off. But on Saturday, Aquino homered in his first three at-bats against the Cubs, the first rookie and just the 12th player in MLB history to hit a home run in three consecutive innings. Bobby Estalella was the only other player in history to have a three-dinger game within the first 10 of his career.
“That’s why I put that show on out there, for the fans to enjoy that,” said Aquino “I’m not focused about my numbers. I don’t care about what I’ve done. The big thing is the team and to go out there and win as many games as we can.”
The guy also has a rocket arm. Last Thursday, on the day he tied the record for the hardest-hit home run in Statcast history (118.3 mph), he threw a ball from right field to third base at 101.5 mph – Aroldis Chapman territory – that was the fastest by an outfielder this season.
“I could go on and on about him,” said Bell. “Even more, he’s proven to himself he can be a big part of our team. … He’s aggressive, but he’s also under control. Not only is he hitting home runs, he’s doing it in really meaningful games. These games are so important to us as a team, and he’s coming through like that.”
Aquino signed with the Reds as an undrafted free agent in 2011 then labored for six seasons in rookie or Single-A. He won the Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award as the Reds’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2016 when he was also named the Florida State League Player of the Year. He hit just .216 the next year at Double-A Pensacola. He made his MLB debut in 2018, but struck out in his only at-bat.
There is something else quite unique about Aquino. His batting stance is about as open as you can get. He faces the pitcher while waiting for the pitch before rotating into a more conventional stance. Hey, whatever works, right?
Aquino got the nickname “The Punisher” from his brother and told the Reds media when he was recalled that he loved it.
“I always know that I hit the ball hard,” said Aquino .“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.”