Small Sample, Big Outlook: Aristides Aquino

After a slight breakout in 2016, where he posted a 143 wRC+ in the FSL, Aristides Aquino was one of the most popular under the radar prospects in all of baseball, and had a lot of helium heading into 2017. In the next two seasons following, Aquino would play about 250 games in AA, where he struggled mightily to find his footing. This was nothing new for him, as he’d spent 4 seasons in rookie ball before he was finally ready for full season, but people gave up on Aquino for the most part after 2017. While he played fairly well in 2018, Aristides Aquino was a name that was on very few people’s radars going into 2019.

Despite being cut from the 40-man roster, Aquino turned some heads at Spring Training, not for his play, but for his extremely unorthodox stance. Despite how strange it may look, this drastic change made a huge difference for Aquino, as he came out absolutely dominant in AAA. At the time of his callup in August, Aquino had put up a slash line of .299/.356/.636 with 28 HR in only 323 PA; good for a 144 wRC+. Despite his drastic improvements and the trade of Yasiel Puig people still weren’t talking about Aristides Aquino when he was called up. It only took a couple of weeks for that to change. In his first 16 games (1 of which was a pinch hit appearance), Aquino hit a record 11 HR, and was possibly the biggest story in all of baseball. Three months later where do we stand with Aristides Aquino?

Aristides Aquino’s debut was a story of two months that couldn’t be more different. Let’s just take a look at the stats in each of his two months in the majors:

Month PA HR AVG OBP SLG OPS wRC+ K% BB% BABIP
August 115 14 .320 .391 .767 1.158 185 22.6 8.7 .302
September 110 5 .196 .236 .382 .619 52 30.9 5.5 .231

While we were all expecting Aquino to come back to earth after his monumental start, few could’ve predicted just how hard Aquino would crash after his hot start. After seeing him mocked as high as 78th in some mock drafts I’d seen in early September, people had already started to give up on Aquino by seasons’ end. While the overall numbers (.891 OPS, 119 wRC+) still look great, it’s very easy to write that off as a fluke, or say that Aquino’s September is proof that pitchers figured him out. It’s also very easy to say that Aquino is simply a streaky hitter, and that we should expect both sides of the spectrum moving forward. It’s also completely reasonable to have no idea what to make of Aquino’s debut, that’s why I’m here, to point you in the right direction.

Let’s start with what we do know about Aquino, and what everyone does know about Aquino, that he has plus raw power. Even as a prospect Aquino was known for a plus raw power. While obviously he won’t hit HR at the Babe Ruth like pace that he did in his first few weeks, power is what we should expect from Aquino. Even his September pace (22 PA/HR), puts him at a pace of about 27 over a full season, and he did that while hitting .196. Whether he hits .220 or .280 next season is one thing, but I’m extremely confident in Aquino as a source of power moving forward.

Where I think people have overlooked Aquino a bit is what he can contribute on the bases. Perhaps the most underrated stat of Aquino’s debut is the fact that he went a perfect 7 for 7 on SB attempts, which is about a 19 SB pace. What’s even more impressive is that Aquino’s top sprint speed clocked in 28.7 ft/sec, which is 89th percentile among MLB players. Just below Aquino are Christian Yelich and Tommy Pham, who combined for 55 SB last year, and while Aquino doesn’t accelerate quite as fast as those two it’s easy to see him contributing 15-20 SB consistently moving forward. Aquino has actually always been a plus runner, even stealing 21 bases in 71 games in 2014, but people see his frame and power and completely forget how athletic he actually is. Based on tools alone, I think even if he doesn’t hit for average at all next year Aquino will put up 30+ HR and 15+ SB, which is something only 6 players (Acuña, Yelich, Story, Lindor, Bellinger, Harper) achieved in 2019.

From HR and SB alone, Aquino is going to provide a ton of fantasy value, but how much value he can provide depends on how well he can manage his plate discipline. While he experienced a stretch of bad luck in September, the main difference between was his K% and BB%, which both went in the complete wrong direction. As I mentioned before, Aquino has a history of taking a bit of time to settle into a new environment, so I actually expect him to improve his discipline from what he showed in September. I think his rates in 2020 will look very similar to what his overall numbers were; a K% between 25% and 27% and a BB% around 27%.

Aquino’s BABIP variation over both months also shows that there was luck involved in both his struggles and his successes. For most of Aquino’s career in the minors, Aquino has posted BABIPs in the range of .260-.280. While Aquino’s speed might make you think this is low, his extreme flyball tendencies lead to a lower BABIP. While I do believe that the increase in his pull% on FB and average flyball distance will actually yield a higher BABIP for Aquino, so I expect him to stabilize around .285. I’ve seen some say that they expect Aquino to hit close to .220, but I don’t think he’ll get that low.

For Aristides Aquino in 2020, I would predict an overall slash line of about .260/.320/.540, while contributing about 35 HR and 15 SB. I think he’s a top 25-30 OF, a top 100-150 player overall, and a great buy low target in dynasty leagues at this point. I think the moral of the story with Aristides Aquino is don’t overreact too much to hot stretches and don’t overreact too much to big slumps, because all players come with both, especially big power hitters. If you’re an Aristides Aquino owner you just have to embrace both and be diligent, and if you’re not an Aristides Aquino owner, I would personally recommend going out and changing that.

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