4. Brady Aiken – Left-handed Pitcher
Born: 08/16/1996 – Height: 6’4” – Weight: 205 – Bats: Left – Throws: Left
Facts & Info: Aiken was selected by the Indians in the 1st round of the 2015 Draft out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL and signed for $2,515,280. He was originally selected in the 1st round and number one overall by the Astros in the 2014 Draft out of Cathedral Catholic High School (CA) but did not sign and enrolled at the IMG Academy. He was a 2014 Perfect Game USA first Team All-American and led Team USA to the gold medal at the 18U World Cup in Taiwan in September 2013, including a win in the championship game vs. Japan (7.0 IP, 1 R, 10 K). He injured his left elbow just 13 pitches into his first appearance for the IMG Academy and underwent reconstructive left elbow surgery on March 26, 2015 in New York City.
Stuff: Brady is a legitimate front of the rotation pitching prospect who combines some very good stuff, size, athleticism, delivery and makeup to project very well from the left side of the mound. He features a deep four pitch mix with two well above average offerings and two more which have the potential to be good as well, and shows a good ability to command all of them. Prior to surgery, his plus four-seam fastball sat at 90-94 MPH and he could run it up to 98 MPH, but in his return to the mound last season it was only at 88-91 MPH and occasionally hit 92 MPH. When healthy, it is a very strong offering that shows very good late life through the zone and commands it well to both sides of the plate. He gets it on a good downhill plane and shows an ability to elevate it when needed to change the eye levels of hitters. The Indians believe that the velocity will begin to come back this season now that he is much further away from surgery and was able to re-establish himself on the mound last season, and they feel that as he matures and gets stronger that his pre-draft average velocity could tick up to where he averages more in the 93-95 MPH range. His low 80s plus curveball is his best pitch and a true weapon for him that has plus-plus potential. It is a hammer that he shows an advanced feel for, spins it well, has the confidence to throw in any count or situation and gets some great 12-6 action and depth to the bottom of the zone. The curveball was there for him the most last season as he had the feel for it and showed an incredible ability to add and subtract from it. He does a great job of working it on the hands of right-handers and gets a ton of chase and defensive swings with it on lefties. He mixes in an average changeup and is another offering that has a chance to be a plus offering for him because of the good late fade it has and the confidence he has in it. He really does a good job of repeating his arm slot and release point with it which creates some deception because of the way it looks like his fastball coming out of his hand. He also has a developing slider that he shows a feel for and is still a work in progress. It has some cutter-like action and is a pitch he is still gaining confidence in throwing and has a chance to be an average offering for him and give him a different looking breaking ball.
Delivery & Intangibles: Aiken has a mechanically sound delivery with lots of athleticism to it and the ability to repeat it well. There is not a lot of effort to his delivery as he is smooth with a big, high leg kick and really uses his lower half well to create some good balance and get him working downhill fast. He shows some nice, clean arm action with a high three-quarter slot where he creates some deception with the way he hides the ball well in his motion until release. He has a good, strong frame that gives him the potential to haul innings and be a workhorse on the mound. He is very mature for his age and shows some advanced pitchability where he knows how to effectively mix his pitches and work in and out of the zone and up and down. The Indians love his character and his excellent work ethic where he shows a relentless desire to improve and get better. He is a plus makeup player who is very coachable and is a very good teammate.
Focus: Last season the main focus for Aiken was to rehab from Tommy John surgery and get his work in without worrying about the results and how his stuff looked on the mound. His stuff was slow to return as he had problems with the consistency of his stuff and commanding all of his pitches which resulted in him getting banged around a little, walking some hitters and getting into too many fastball only counts. His curveball looked good but the lack of velocity on his fastball and lack of the late life and command he had of it pre-injury impacted his performance. But his performance was not the main focus as the Indians were happy that he made each scheduled start and did not have any setbacks in his recovery – though even with the lack of consistent good stuff he flashed his ability to miss bats as he put up an 11.1 K/9 on the season. They are confident that with a full offseason with no limitations to work on his mechanics, endurance and strength that he will be as strong as ever this season and that the command will begin to return. The Indians just want him to focus on pitching as they believe the velocity will come back and the stuff will return. They also want to start diving in and working on his mechanics a little more to fine tune them which will help bring more crispness to his stuff. The other big thing the Indians want him to work on is finding the feel of his changeup again as it came and went a lot last season. It was not there much at all early in the season, though it came on some near the end of the season as he made a few mental adjustments with it and really worked on it in his bullpen and daily throwing sessions. The Indians also want to see him work to get his fastball command back so that he is able to better work to both sides of the plate and not try to do too much with it.
Future: Aiken has been on the long road back from surgery. Last season, he finally reached the point where he could return to the mound and while the numbers were not spectacular in his return, he accomplished all of the goals the organization set out for him and had a healthy return to the mound. It was the first time he pitched in a competitive environment in over two years, so the Indians were very conservative with him and just wanted him to develop that competitive feel again to get used to having an opposing hitter in the batter's box. Without his best stuff he was not able go out there and dominate hitters like he used to in high school, but the Indians believe it helped him learn more about himself and his character and what it takes to have success than any other time in his life. Even though they knew he was injured coming out of the draft, the Indians felt comfortable with the medical information they were able to evaluate prior to selecting him and their own medical evaluations they had him undergo. They were aware of the concerns the Astros had with his medicals where an examination showed an abnormally small UCL ligament in his left elbow, which is what prevented the Astros from signing him as they bumped their signing bonus offer from $6.5 million to $5 million, which Aiken turned down and signed on to play with a post-graduate team at the IMG Academy in Florida to go back into the draft the next year. The Indians scouts spent a lot of time evaluating him throughout 2014 and were there for his first start with the IMG Academy in 2015 before he got hurt, so they had a very good idea of the player they were drafting. With their doctors okaying things on the medical side they believe he can get back to being a top prospect for them. The ceiling is high and the floor is low right now because he is such a boom or bust guy because of the uncertainty if the stuff and feel will ever come all the way back, but if it does come back he has the potential to be a frontline Major League starter thanks to his potential for three plus pitches, his good size, his plus makeup, his pitchability, his command and his delivery. He will open the season at Low-A Lake County and get a chance to accrue some innings there this season and should have an opportunity to finish the season at High-A Lynchburg if he shows progress in his development and pitches well.
Ranking History: #3 (2016)