- Full name Gregori Emilio Aquino
- Born 01/11/1978 in Sabana Grande De Palenque, Dominican Republic
- Profile Ht.: 6'1" / Wt.: 190 / Bats: R / Throws: R
- School Americo Lugo
- Debut 07/02/2004
Organization Prospect Rankings
Originally signed as a shortstop, Aquino became a pitcher in 1999 after batting .156 in low Class A. His power arsenal led to a full-time move to the bullpen last year, and an emergency callup to Arizona despite struggling in Triple-A. He converted his first 10 save opportunities in the majors. When everything is clicking for Aquino, he's nearly unhittable. He throws a mid-90s fastball and has touched triple digits, but gets far better movement and location when he dials his heater down. His low-80s slider has gone from unreliable to a plus pitch featuring two-plane break. Aquino can still be inconsistent, particularly with his command. He needs to learn how to set hitters up, as opposed to simply trying to blow them away. The Diamondbacks were so bad last year that he has yet to close a meaningful big league game. Aquino's performance was one of Arizona's few pleasant developments in the majors last year. He enters 2005 as the team's closer.
If not for his mother, Aquino might not be with the Diamondbacks anymore. He was one of the first players ever signed by the organization, but hit just .229 as a shortstop over his first four seasons. He almost quit after Arizona asked him to see how his arm strength would translate on the mound, but his mother told him not to give up on his dream of playing in the majors. Aquino has shown improvement each year on the mound, topping out at 99-100 mph in a 2003. Though his fastball is straight, its sheer velocity still makes it tough to hit. He also throws a power slider, and is daring enough to throw it in any count despite his inconsistent command. Aquino will show a two-seam fastball and a changeup at times, but he doesn't have a reliable offspeed pitch to complement his hard, hard, harder approach. As a result, the bullpen is the best place for him. Aquino has missed time with elbow and shoulder discomfort and tendinitis over the last year and a half. While he always comes back with his same power stuff, the recurring problems are troubling. The Diamondbacks see him eventually settling into a role like the one Oscar Villarreal had in 2003, getting key outs in middle relief and also serving as a set-up man. Aquino could begin 2004 in Triple-A and move to the majors at midseason.
Aquino has gone through major changes since signing in 1995. He spent his first 3 1⁄2 years as a shortstop before batting .160 in two tries at low Class A. His offensive struggles and his strong arm prompted a move to the mound in 1999. He also played under the surname Valera before last season. Aquino's fastball registers 96-97 mph consistently and he has more than adequate control for a power pitcher. His main problem is that he lacks a decent second pitch to keep hitters off his heater. The Diamondbacks remain hopeful he'll improve his slider and changeup, and they're comfortable with his development to this point. He'll probably start 2003 in high Class A.
Minor League Top Prospects
One of the first players signed by the Diamondbacks organization in 1995, Aquino spent most of his first four seasons as a shortstop. A .229 career average and a talking-to from his mother persuaded the Dominican native to go along with Arizona's suggestion to try pitching. The results have gotten better every year. Aquino was dominant at times in his first experience in Double-A, and in a May start against Midland touched 99 mph twice. Not long after that, though, he went down with a sore shoulder and missed most of June and July. He returned on a strict pitch count but still flashed great stuff. The key to success for him is developing a reliable second pitch. His slider is sharp when it's on but inconsistent. "In one start he was throwing that slider on 3-and-2, 2-and-0," Coolbaugh said. "When he's throwing that way, he's as good as anybody in the game."
Aquino was known as Greg Valera prior to this season, but he had a more significant identity change before he started using his middle name. The Dominican was a middle infielder for five years after signing in 1996 at age 16, but moved to the mound after posting a .229 average in 716 minor league at-bats. With his power arm, the Diamondbacks gave him a chance on the mound. Though he still has to make up for lost time, he showed a fastball that touched 96 mph before he was promoted to high Class A Lancaster. He also showed a slider and changeup that were at times average pitches. "He brought it to the table at 95," Gideon said. "He also brought a hard slider and showed the ability to pitch up and down in the zone with his fastball."