For much of the season, the Cincinnati right field was patrolled by one of the biggest (if not the biggest) personalities to ever suit up for the Reds. The trade that brought Yasiel Puig to the Queen City was a whopper, and one that looked pretty good for the Redlegs at the time (even if it looks a little more lackluster now). More than anything, it signified a major shift in the way the Reds viewed building their team: it was time to start competing now.
It didn’t really work, of course. And it seems really disingenuous to give a ton of credit to a professional sports organization for trying to compete, but hell, that’s where we are these days. Still, so what if the 2019 Reds were the personification of that Bart Simpson “At Least You Tried” gif. For the first time in years, we had at least a sliver of hope.
Yasiel Puig certainly lived up to his part of the bargain.
Reds RF - Team
|WAA (MLB Rank)
|WAA (MLB Rank)
It shouldn’t come as much surprise that Reds right fielders whacked the cover off of the ball, ranking fifth in slugging percentage and third in isolated power. The boys, they can bop.
It also isn’t much of a surprise that they rank, well, lower in the on base percentage areas...
Hey, home runs are fun, okay.
Reds RF - Players
Part I - IN MEMORIAM: Yasiel the Red
Oh, sweet prince.
I don’t know that, production-wise, it’s appropriate to say that Yasiel Puig lived up to his somewhat lofty expectations. His time as a Red would’ve been his lowest OPS+ mark of his career, and including his time in Cleveland, he did produce his lowest full season OPS+. After tearing the cover off the ball in Spring Training, Puig stumbled out of the gate and produced an April to forget.
On April 30th, Puig had hit .192/.226/.354 in 106 plate appearances, walking only five times to 27 punch outs. The rest of his Reds tenure played out in much more Yasiel Puig fashion: his final 298 plate appearances yielded a slash line of .274/.329/.518 with 30 extra base hits. For three months, Yasiel Puig hit balls out of Great American Ball Park like he was built for it, and it built for him.
Still, baseball is played as a form for entertainment. The sum-total of the performance doesn’t all fit on the spreadsheet in numbers format. And Yasiel was a treat from the moment he walked through the door.
Back in May, Jose Peraza and Yasiel Puig agreed that if they were to get two hits in a game, they would each dye their hair blond, in a nod to their teammate, Eugenio Suarez. And so, Yasiel Puig got two hits and died his mohawk blond. It’s his response to the question that makes Yasiel hard not to love, as relayed from Bobby Nightengale from the Cincinnati Enquirer:
“I don’t care how it looks,” Puig said. “I do it for my teammates. If I say something and I promise something, I come through. That’s the reason I have my hair like that because I said if I have two hits, I’m going to do it. Now here I am.”
What was Peraza’s reaction to Puig’s new look?
“He told me that mine is better than him,” Puig said. “Peraza is a little gray. Mine is a little blond. He doesn’t have the hair that looks good like me, but his is pretty.”
And his arm. Oh my God, the throwing arm. Well, I mean to speak of the electric throws that Puig is so famous for making, but if you want to just ogle his arms for a moment, well, I won’t stop you.
No, I meant to talk about this arm:
And this one:
And honestly, I could do this all day.
Yasiel Puig stays hustling. Reds fans weren’t treated with any rumored “bad” Yasiel Puig, the aloof and sometimes absent minded Dodger player that riled up so many old sportswriters. Yasiel the Red was never not going 100 MPH. I mean, who can forget the play he made to beat the Brewers all by his damn self.
I’m sure the most lasting memories and images of Yasiel the Red are going to be him as the Reds Enforcer vs. the Evil Pittsburgh Pirates, Baseball’s Fun Gatekeepers. And look, I get it if benches clearing brawls aren’t for you. I’ll concede that they’re probably not the greatest look for Major League Baseball, and the often-times faux-tough guy thing is off-putting.
So, fare thee well, Mr. Puig. I’m not sure you were ever able to actually live up to the hype in Cincinnati, but I for one was mightily entertained. In a season much more full of downs than ups, you helped us all make a few more memories than we otherwise would have.
Part II - The Punisher Rises
The real Reds story of the season, at least as it applies to winning baseball games in the future, is the emergence of Aristides Aquino. From essentially the minute Yasiel Puig was traded, Aquino was called up to fill the Puig-sized hole in right field.
And my goodness, did he ever.
It took three games before Aquino hit his first home run. And then he wouldn’t hit another for another two games, the bum. On August 6th, he hit his second home run of the season to begin a four game stretch where he’d belt six total, culminating with a three home run barrage of the Chicago Cubs.
By the end of the month, he’d be hitting .320/.391/.767 with 14 home runs. Those 14 dingers placed him fourth on the all time list of most home runs by a rookie in a month. A list that includes Aaron Judge and Mark McGuire. It tied him for the most home runs hit by a Reds player in a calendar month, rookie or otherwise. A list that includes Frank Robinson and Greg Vaughn. Nine of those home runs game in his first 14 games, which is the fastest any player has done that... and so on, and so forth.
All this after being out-righted from the roster back in November 2018. Famously, any team could’ve signed him and didn’t, as the Reds swooped back in and inked him to a minor league deal a little more than 24 hours later. Still, he wasn’t protected from the Rule 5 draft, but nobody took a shot.
A pretty radical swing change is credited for his breakout, both in Louisville and Cincinnati.
The trouble is, for Aquino but mostly the Reds, is that he didn’t follow up the performance in his second month as a Big Leaguer. It never made sense to expect him to, of course. But the numbers he put up in September are concerning, at least when pondering what the Reds should do with right field in 2020.
From September 1st through the end of the season, Aquino batted .196/.236/.382 with five home runs and only six walks to 34 strikeouts. A rookie coming into MLB and putting up a very productive first few weeks or months before struggling as the book begins to go around isn’t a rare thing. We see it happen all the time. But considering the highs of Aquino’s high, the low was sobering.
And it has to leave the Reds wondering what to do about right field for the 2020 season. What is the real Aristides Aquino? Is it something closer to the rookie who took the entire league by storm in August? Or is it the guy who couldn’t crack a .200 batting average in September?
Probably somewhere in between, of course, but should the Reds be serious about contending, they need it to be a lot closer to the former than latter. And the Reds don’t have many in-house options, either, at least ones that haven’t already been tried. The trade that opened up the spot for Aquino by sending away Puig also included the Next Great Reds Outfielder, Taylor Trammell.
So, it’s sink or swim for Aristides, unless the Reds decide to go outside the organization to sure-up the position. Say, I wonder if there’s anyone available...