As a high school student, Brady Aiken was probably more concerned with prom or even chemistry class than the fate of the Houston Astros this year. But, the Astros certainly have their eyes on the young pitcher.
Houston holds the No. 1 pick in the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft, and Aiken has emerged as the smart choice for that selection.
Not that long ago, North Carolina State southpaw Carlos Rodon was seen as the surefire top pick, especially after he helped lead the Wolfpack to the College World Series and led NCAA Division I in strikeouts in 2013. The fact that he is a left-handed pitcher only served to help his cause.
However, Rodon struggled at times in 2014 and lost his seemingly insurmountable grip on that No. 1 selection.
Aiken, who can also count himself as one of those potentially dominant left-handed pitchers who are so valuable in the MLB, is younger than Rodon and has less seasoning and wear on his arm. He has also faced some of the world’s best competition in his age group and helped Team USA win its second-straight 18-and-under world championship against Japan. He only allowed a single run in seven innings of work and struck out 10.
What’s more, Aiken went 6-0 with a sparking 0.80 ERA in his first seven starts of this season. He is as close to unhittable as you can get at the high school level, and Jon Heyman of CBS Sports noted that Aiken has emerged right alongside Rodon as a top pick because of his recent pitching performances:
Keith Law of ESPN has put Aiken at the top of his draft board consistently, as ESPN Insider and Baseball Tonight pointed out:
Part of the reason so many experts see Aiken as the top pick is the fact that he is an absolute physical specimen with major league stuff. He checks in at an athletic 6’4” and hits the mid-90s with his fastball. Aiken also brings a lively curveball and deceptive changeup to the table, which is critical because major league pitchers typically need at least three solid pitches to be effective starters.
A senior scouting official with a National League team discussed Aiken’s potential to be the No. 1 pick recently, via Jim Callis of MLB.com: "I'd probably take Aiken No. 1, and I think if you asked 30 teams, 15-20 would say Aiken. He has taken a real step up. He's more consistent, he has a good body, good arm action, three plus pitches at times.”
However, there is reason to be cautious if we are to project ahead with Aiken.
Only two high school southpaws have been selected No. 1 in the MLB draft, and both of them failed to live up to the sky-high expectations that came with that designation.
David Clyde of the Texas Rangers and Brien Taylor of the New York Yankees probably don’t ring any bells with casual baseball fans, and Taylor never even made the major leagues. In fact, Taylor is one of only three No. 1 overall choices to fail to reach the big league level.
Still, the fact that Aiken has three plus pitches in his repertoire already is an encouraging sign, and he has been known to touch as high as 97 on his fastball. That is ridiculous for a high school prospect.
As long as the Astros don’t rush him to the big leagues as such a young pitcher, Aiken should eventually be a dominating force in the major leagues.
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