College pitchers are all the rage.
Since 1991, nine different college pitchers have been selected at No. 1 overall in the MLB draft, but not a single prep hurler has been taken in that slot during that span. Brady Aiken has a chance to change all of that.
The 6'4", 205-pound left-hander has been sensational all season with Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) and is now viewed as the top overall player in the 2014 class. Aiken is equipped with a left arm that can hurl the ball in the low 90s with breaking pitches that will make him a premier starter throughout his professional career.
Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com provides a scouting report on the lefty:
Aiken is the freshly minted No. 1 prospect on our Draft Top 100 list. The SoCal left-hander has probably done more than any other 2014 draft prospect in terms of separating himself from others in the class. We had Aiken ranked at No. 9 overall in the fall as the top high school southpaw in the class, on the cusp of being a top-10 pick.
Now, Aiken is atop the board, ahead of N.C. State's Carlos Rodon as the best pitcher in the class, and ahead of Tyler Kolek in a comparison of prep arms. Some of that has to do with Aiken's increased velocity, to go along with the plus pitchability that he has always been known for. His maturity has enabled him to dominate all spring and make him look much more like a front-line starter in the future than he did even last fall.
While many believed the Houston Astros would go with NC State's Carlos Rodon since the point they secured the No. 1 pick, this year's draft could have a very different look. If Aiken does indeed sit at the top of Houston's board, it might just be the perfect gamble for a team on the rise.
Before looking more into why Aiken should go at the top, let's take a look at where the Astros currently stand.
At fifth overall in the American League West, the 'Stros have recently called up both George Springer and Jonathan Singleton to join a lineup with Dexter Fowler and Jose Altuve. Springer was named the AL Rookie of the Month for May after hitting 10 homers in his first full month.
The team is also 8-2 in its last 10 games and has a wealth of prospects still in the minors. Names such as Mark Appel and Carlos Correa will soon be joining the big league roster after a full rebuild in Houston.
Houston is in such a full rebuild mode that Brian Kenny of MLB Network has religiously called them the "team of the future." That decision-making trickles down to financial decisions, another reason the Aiken pick makes sense, as Jim Callis of MLB.com explains:
Houston's decision likely will come down to Aiken, Rodon and Jackson, none of whom is expected to command the full $7,922,100 assigned pick value. There's increasing chatter that the Astros might play it safer by going for a bat, but the guess here is that they'll pop the Draft's top-rated prospect in Aiken.
As for Aiken, his rise to being considered the top prospect by most analysts has been mostly paved over the last year. After earning a spot with the USA Baseball 18U team, the Golden State pitcher with the golden arm mowed down two foreign teams—including Japan—in Taiwan.
Aiken helped the team earn a gold medal in the overseas tournament, telling AJ Cassavell of MLB.com, "USA Baseball was pretty much the highlight of my baseball career so far. Winning a gold medal in Taiwan was unbelievable."
Since that point, Aiken has been on every scout's radar. Though there's always less risk with a college pitcher, nothing is normal about Aiken.
Scouts have had a chance to see players such as Rodon and Tyler Beede pitch to college athletes, but John Manuel of Baseball America explains why Aiken is a different type of high school prospect, via Tim Keown of ESPN.com:
"Teams have probably seen him 100 times," Manuel said. "They've had national crosscheckers and area scouts and even international scouts on him. There's an extensive track record, more in line with a college player."
Keith Law of ESPN.com currently has the Astros drafting him:
Every analyst from Callis and Mayo to John Manuel of Baseball America has seen the pitcher's growth over the last year. But could he actually go No. 1 overall and break the 23-year drought?
Whether he does or not, Aiken has remained humble during the long ride to Thursday night, per Cassavell:
I try not to think about anything that goes on outside the field. I just try to go out there and help my team win some games. With all the stuff going on around me, and all the stuff going on over the summer, I learned to maintain my focus on the field, knowing that maybe at the end of the season I'll get drafted.
If the Astros do eventually take Aiken at No. 1 overall, the prep pitcher might just change the way MLB teams think about the draft in the future. Baseball is not a sport that likes change, but Aiken's talented left arm might change the thought on high school pitchers.
With Houston, Aiken will also be given plenty of opportunity to work his way up through the system. Despite the tough division and years of horrid play by the team, the Astros would add yet another outstanding prospect to the stable—and he might just be their best yet.
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