Another week, another malady to bug a Yankees outfielder. This time, Aaron Judge sat out of summer camp for a few days with neck stiffness before taking some swings in batting practice yesterday. Just as it seemed he had put his broken rib and collapsed lung issues behind him, this latest issue cropped up to further limit his preparation for the season.
At first glance, it appears the Yankees’ outfield is crowded, and that replacing Judge while he gets over this most recent ailment can be handled in-house. That is certainly true, however the Yankees proved last year that one can never have too much depth in the outfield. Every single outfielder on the Yankees’ depth chart missed at least some time last year, including the long-term absences of the starting trio of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and Judge.
For significant portions of last season, it was only the surprising emergences of Mike Tauchman and Cameron Maybin, and renaissance of Brett Gardner, that kept the Yankees on track. They could look to guys like Clint Frazier, Miguel Andujar, and Tyler Wade to plug the holes as they appear, however none of the three offer competence on both sides of the ball. Alternatively, the Yankees could turn to the trade market, where a former breakout star finds himself without a role.
Aristides Aquino burst onto the scene in a manner unmatched save for Gary Sanchez’s scorching second half debut in 2016. For a month, he set the NL Central ablaze with his titanic display of power. He set the record for the fastest player in modern history to reach 10 home runs (16 games). He sported a 1.158 OPS and 185 wRC+ in the month of August including setting the NL rookie record for home runs in a month with 14.
And just as fast as the home runs flew off his bat in August, the streak came to a screeching halt in September. Aquino only managed a .619 OPS that month, while also seeing his strikeout rate climb by more than eight percentage points. This slump carried over into the first spring training, where he hit .077 with 11 strikeouts in 30 plate appearances.
This protracted cold spell looks to have temporarily derailed a career that got off to such a promising start. Aquino finds himself seventh on the outfield depth chart after the Reds brought in Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama in the offseason. He wasn’t even invited to train with the group practicing at the Great American Ball Park, though was included in the 60-man player pool. So was the big righty just a month-long flash in the pan? And why would the Yankees be at all interested in him?
The answer is his prodigious ability to impact the baseball, when he’s on. Last year, he had the third-hardest hit baseball in all of MLB at 118.3 MPH, ahead of the likes of Pete Alonso, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez. He obviously has the ability to tear the cover off a baseball, the Yankees just need to find a way to get it for more than a month at a time.
The Yankees have had unusual success with players who hit the ball hard, but do not do so on a consistent enough basis. Their hitting department has worked wonders on guys who profile very similarly to Aquino. Players like Luke Voit and Gio Urshela consistently ranked near the top of team rankings in maximum exit velocity before coming over to the Yankees, yet lagged when it came to average exit velocity.
After moving to the Bronx, Voit saw his average exit velocity increased by almost two mph in his first season in pinstripes while Urshela’s average exit velocity jumped by almost five mph. The Yankees found a way to unlock these hitters’ A-swings more frequently, and improved the quality of contact when getting off these swings. The potential is already in Aquino’s bat, and the Yankees’ hitting department is just the place to untap it.
Offensively, Aquino promises way more upside than all but one or two current depth pieces. Defensively, Aquino is a far superior option in the outfield than either Clint Frazier or Miguel Andujar. Aquino ranked in the 89th percentile in sprint speed last season. He was also good for four outs above average according to Statcast while ranking 14th in the league in making two-star or harder plays (plays with a 90% or less catch probability,) impressive given he only played one-third of a season.
The Yankees can also take advantage of the fact that his value is in the cellar. He is at the bottom of the Reds outfield pecking order, even with Cincinnati repeatedly shopping top prospect Nick Senzel on the trade market in the offseason. Aquino does come with the ever-attractive years of team control, but the Reds’ farm is partially depleted following the Trevor Bauer acquisition. Now may be the time for the Yankees to buy low.
It is hard to see a trade like this take shape, especially if the prospect costs start to escalate. The Yankees have a logjam in the outfield and the quarantine allowed many time to heal. That being said, the Yankees have shown us to never get complacent with outfield depth. Given the success the Yankees have had in developing players of his ilk, Aristides Aquino could be an intriguing buy. I for one would love to see Garymania 2.0 in pinstripes.