CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – If Brady Aiken ever wants to live up to the expectations of a former number one overall pick, he may have to change everything. He is already in the process of doing so.
The 21-year old lefty from California was selected with the top pick by the Houston Astros in 2014 before rejecting a $3.1 million offer to sign. That offer had dropped from $6.5 million after an MRI during Aiken’s physical revealed “the reddest of red flags” according to the organization.
Aiken underwent Tommy John surgery on March 24th of 2015, and was still drafted by the Indians 17th overall with a $2.5 million signing bonus. The time since has not been easy, with a minor league record of 7-20 in 40 starts, never having an ERA under 4.40 for any one stop.
The left-handed prodigy had his elbow repaired by the same surgeon who repaired that of Carlos Carrasco, and Aiken found himself in an organization that has the best rotation in baseball. Four of the six members of that rotation have had Tommy John as well.
Never shy about praising the organization for their ability to rehabilitate pitchers, Aiken is through his first full season with the Indians farm system. Just that in itself was a win for the lefty.
“That was a big thing for me to know I’m not made of glass and I can get through a year,” Aiken said at the Indians’ Fall Development Program on Tuesday. “It was really good knowing I made it through the year and didn’t miss any starts and learned a lot.”
Even without the statistical disappointments, 2017 was a rough year for Aiken even still. With a surgically repaired arm, it becomes necessary to develop mechanics that do not put the player at further risk of injury.
Those were the changes the former top pick had to make in his first full year. They have resulted in a drop in velocity, going from up to 96 mph in high school to an average of 89-91, an issue that has even gotten reporters called into the Manager’s office at Single-A for digging deeper.
That drop in velocity has forced changes to Aiken’s approach, whether it be pre- or post-game, and even during a start. For someone once regarded as the top talent in an entire draft to have a forced makeover in every facet of the game, there will be multiple steps back before a step forward.
Still, Aiken remains steadfast in the slow-and-steady approach.
“Patience is definitely one of the biggest things, especially this year where I thought this was going to be a big year for me and I struggled a lot and so I had to be patient, not try to get too angry with myself, not try to press too much, not overdo too much,” he said. “Just being patient with the whole process, knowing that being in the minor leagues, you’re going to be there for a while and this is where you’re supposed to learn.”
Like the rest of the pitchers tabbed as promising enough to attend the Development Program, Aiken spent time following Corey Kluber and another Tommy John patient, Josh Tomlin, to study their routines.
For now, these day-in, day-out nuances could save the career of a pitcher that once moved a scout to proclaim that becoming the best pitcher of all-time was a realistic goal.
“I think everyone’s different in their routines and the strength staff and the medical staff try to do the best to help you, but at the end of the day, it’s your career and you’ve got to do what’s best for you,” Aiken said. “They give you little things to do and you try it out in-between starts and you find out what lifts you need to do and what makes your body feel good on that fifth day. Same with the medical side, doing stuff with your routine and your prep work in the weight room before you throw and then your post-throwing routine.”