The 80th Greatest Royals is Luis Aquino
Luis was a pretty solid swingman for the Royals for parts of five seasons in the late 80s and early 90s. He never struck out very many hitters, but had good control, and always seemed to post good earned run averages. He was a sinkerballer who pitched with a very straight back and delivered the ball as if he were falling off the mound towards home plate. He posted a very solid 3.68 ERA in his nine seasons in the big leagues, but was very unheralded.
Luis signed with the Toronto Blue Jays as a seventeen year old out of Santurce, Puerto Rico. After starting his first two professional seasons, the Blue Jays made him a closer, and he set a team record with twenty saves for AA Knoxville in 1985. After another solid season in 1986, the Blue Jays called him up for a cup of coffee.
The next season, the Jays were in the thick of a pennant race and acquired disappointing veteran outfielder Juan Beniquez from the Royals in exchange for the 22 year old Aquino. In 1988, the Royals made him a starter once again, and he was the ace of the Omaha staff, posting a 2.85 ERA, winning eight games and throwing a no-hitter. This earned him a promotion and he posted a solid 2.79 ERA in 29 Major League innings late in the year, including a complete game shutout against the team that gave up on him - the Blue Jays.
The Royals entered 1989 with Steve Farr as their closer and a wide open competition for the rest of the bullpen. The team had young guys like Jose DeJesus, Hector Wagner, Tom Gordon, Kevin Appier, Rick Luecken and Mel Stottlemyre Jr. as well as veterans Donnie Moore and Steve Crawford battling for roles. Ultimately, Aquino would win a spot in the bullpen because of his versatility. He was used in a mop-up role and as a spot-starter much of the year, but posted a solid 3.50 ERA in 141 innings, capped by a complete game victory in Yankee Stadium in mid-July in which he gave up just one run.
Despite a strong season, the Royals offered Aquino as trade bait to the Philadelphia Phillies for reserve infielder Steve Jeltz to fill in for injured second baseman Frank White. The Phillies balked and instead accepted Jose DeJesus, allowing Aquino to take a spot in the Royals bullpen. Aquino pitched well with a 3.16 ERA out of the pen, but missed the last two months with a chest injury.
Again, the Royals offered Aquino as trade bait in the spring of 1991, offering him to Atlanta for pinch-hitter Tommy Gregg. The talks fell through and Aquino won a spot in the Royals pen. He struggled much of the first half of the year, but was put in the rotation in late June and threw a complete game shutout against the defending league champion Oakland Athletics. From that point on, he posted a 2.97 ERA in 109 innings. This would be Aquino's career high in wins, innings pitched, games started and strikeouts.
Aquino missed most of the first three months of 1992 with shoulder stiffness, and by the time he returned, the Royals were already out of the race in a disappointing season. Aquino pitched in the rotation the rest of the year, with mixed results and a 4.52 ERA. The next spring the Royals sold him to the expansion Florida Marlins.
Aquino was a bit of a favorite of mine as I grew up with the late 80s Royals. He always seemed to be under-appreciated, yet an invaluable part of the staff. Had he been born just ten years later, there's no doubt he would have been the "ace" of those late 90s Royals teams.