Fay: Reds outfielder Aristides Aquino has made a huge first impression at spring training

The only true five-tool player in camp
Posted at 11:00 AM, Mar 10, 2017

John Fay returned from Reds spring training in Goodyear, Arizona, with a notebook full of stories. Here's his second.

CINCINNATI -- It's hard not to notice Aristides Aquino when he steps into the batting cage. There's the size -- 6-foot-4-inches, 220 pounds. He looks more like an outside linebacker than an outfielder.

And when he starts swinging and connecting, the ball jumps off his bat. 

It's harder not to notice Aquino in outfield drills. His speed is impressive, and his arm is off-the-charts.

Aquino, 22, is the reigning Reds minor-league player of the year, and he is the only true five-tool player in camp.

"He physically jumps off the page at you," said director of player development Jeff Graupe. "There's no hiding that height, weight, speed, strength combo."

That gives Aquino more potential than anyone in camp. If he lives up to that potential, the Reds will really have something.

"When you talk about a five-tool player, you talk about a superstar," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It would help anybody's team to have that type of player."

The Reds haven't had success tapping the Latin American talent pool. They've tried. They signed Yorman Rodriguez and Juan Duran to $2 million bonuses in 2008. Both were busts. The Pirates surge was made possible largely by getting Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco out of the Dominican Republic. 

The Reds went that route with Aquino. He signed as a 16-year-old out of San Domingo in the Dominican in 2011. He weighed about 170 pounds at the time, but the speed and the arm were there. His power has developed as he's grown into his body. He fills out a compression shirt as well as anyone in camp.

"I'm stronger now," he said. "I train. I eat better. I work hard."

Of the five tools -- speed, hit for power, arm, fielding and hit for average -- the last to come is hitting for average. That was the case with Aquino. He hit .188 and .197 his first two years in the Dominican Summer League. He continued to struggle after coming to play in the states. He hit .212 at Billings in 2013.

His breakout year came in 2014. He hit .292 at Billings with 16 home runs in 284 at-bats. He led the Frontier League in doubles (23) and RBI (64). He also stole 21 bases.

The next year was a step back. He started the year at Dayton. His season was derailed by a fractured left ulna suffered April 24 when he was hit by a pitch. That kept him out until July 15. When he returned, he struggled enough at Dayton that he was sent back to Billings.

Last year was Aquino's best. He hit .273 with 26 doubles, a league-leading 12 triples, 23 home runs and 79 RBI at high A Daytona last year.

"The big thing is I stayed healthy," Aquino said.

Graupe agreed.

"He had the broken wrist the year before," Graupe said. "Then he kind of got stuck between that first experience at Dayton, playing in the cold, then making up for lost time. I think he lost some of his focus.

"Last year, he came back and had a really good year. We're really excited about it. I think he's made some adjustments to keep it going."

Aquino has been getting his share of time early in camp, his first with the big-league team. He'll probably start this year at Double-A Pensacola. He's on the 40-man roster, so there's a chance he could be in the big leagues in September. He's made a good first impression on Price.

"He's got a long ways to go," Price said. "We certainly like his skill set, his tools and his work ethic. He's been fun to watch, and he's been a performer. This year will be a big test, because he's making that jump out of A-ball this year. That a lot of times defines your career, making that jump to Double-A and seeing what you can do against better, more-experienced players."

If he can make that jump successfully, the Reds could really have something special.