2014 Perfect Game MLB Draft preview content | Aiken goes No. 1, signs for $6.5M
Go Against Draft History,
Prep Pitcher Aiken No. 1
one hand, the Houston Astros have plenty of experience at picking
first overall in baseball’s first-year player draft. On the other,
they bucked 50 years of draft history by potentially gambling on a
high school pitcher with the No. 1 pick this year.
Astros earned the dubious distinction of choosing first for an
unprecedented third draft in a row, their reward for three
consecutive 100-loss seasons—the only time in club history they’ve
reached triple digits. After again keeping their draft strategy close
to the vest right up until the moment they made the pick, the Astros
ended up taking the player industry insiders thought they would take
all along, San Diego prep lefthander and 2013 PG All-American Brady Aiken.
17, completes a trifecta of consecutive top selections by the Astros
in the draft, joining Carlos Correa, a high school shortstop from
Puerto Rico in 2012, and Mark Appel, a college righthander from
Stanford a year ago.
eight prep shortstops and 12 college righthanders among the first
overall picks through the years, Correa and Appel represented the
most popular demographic at the high school and college levels since
the draft process was instituted in 1965. High school pitchers? Now
that’s a different story.
becomes just the third high school arm taken first in the draft (and
the first in 23 years), and the track record of the previous two is
checkered, to say the least, as lefthander David Clyde, the top pick
in 1973, went only 18-33 in his abbreviated big-league career, while
another lefty, Brien Taylor never even pitched in the majors after
injuring his pitching shoulder in an off-field altercation.
prep pitchers of any kind in the first round are inherently riskier
than college pitchers. Not only does it typically take them more time
to reach the majors—at that, only 63 percent of first-round prep
arms even make it—but scouts usually have a smaller body of work to
that track record, the Astros showed little hesitation in
taking Aiken, who made huge strides as a pitching prospect this
spring at San Diego’s Cathedral Catholic High,
going 7-0, 1.06 with 15 walks and 111 strikeouts in 60 innings after
beginning the 2014 season as a longshot to even crack the top half of
the first round.
feel in the category of high school pitchers, this is about as safe a
player as you can have,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
“He’s got the polish, he’s got the stuff, he’s got the
command, he has the delivery we like, he’s got the makeup, he’s
got the size. It’s really hard to poke any holes in this player at
all, except for the fact that he’s young, and we really didn’t
want to hold that against him.”
Astros indicated that they seriously considered six players for the
No. 1 pick this year, with North Carolina State lefthander Carlos
Rodon and Texas prep righthander Tyler Kolek undoubtedly among them.
Along with Aiken, those three were easily considered the cream of the
crop in a pitching-rich draft. Kolek ended up going second overall to
the Miami Marlins and Rodon third to the Chicago White Sox.
Kolek, with his local Texas roots and a fastball that was clocked up
to 102 mph this spring (the highest recorded velocity ever by a prep
pitcher), and Rodon, an advanced college lefthander who began the
2014 season as the consensus top pick, held significant appeal to the
Astros, but Aiken became the player of choice.
was a really tough decision,” Luhnow
acknowledged. “We've been following this kid for a while, we really
like him a lot, but what separated it for us was not only the talent,
but the makeup of this young man. We really think that's going to
separate him and allow him to achieve his potential. He’s a young,
dynamic, high-upside lefthanded pitcher that we haven't had in a
while, and the potential is as high as anybody we've had in the
began to assemble his credentials as the top pick for 2014 when he started the 2013 Perfect Game All-American Classic for the West squad, and later starred for USA Baseball’s junior-national team last September in
Taiwan at the 18-and-under World Cup. He won both his starts in Taiwan,
including a win over Japan in the gold-medal game in which allowed one run
and struck out 10 in seven innings.
performance convinced Aiken that he might have a shot at becoming the
No. 1 pick in the draft this year, and he set out to get bigger and
stronger prior to his senior season with that goal in mind.
sat down with my advisor and my trainer and my parents, and I really
had the goal that I wanted to be the best player in the country,”
Aiken said. “It was a lot of hard work, a lot of early mornings
working out, but hard work in the off-season truly paid off for me in
the spring season.”
typically topped out in the low-90s in the past, but his fastball sat
at a steady 92-93 mph this spring and
frequently reached 96-97 mph. Combined with a better curve and an
advanced feel for his changeup, along with impressive poise, command
and approach for a 17-year-old, scouts quickly began looking at Aiken
with a different eye that ultimately led to his selection as the No.
terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that went
into effect with the 2012 draft and coincided with Houston landing
the first of its three straight first overall selections, the amount
of $7,922,100 was allotted this year as the signing bonus for the No.
1 pick. But the Astros have never used the maximum amount of their
allotment, and were not expected to on Aiken, who reportedly agreed
to a pre-draft bonus of about $6.5 million. From all indications, his
signing is imminent.
shortfall of roughly $1.4 million in bonus money will enable the
Astros to apply it to other draft picks—possibly to their next two
selections, Virginia outfielder Derek Fisher and Kentucky first
baseman A.J. Reed, two prolific college bats taken with the 37th and 42nd picks overall. Teams may apply bonuses to draft picks in the first 10
rounds pretty much as they see fit, so long as the collective amount
does not exceed their bonus-pool allotment by more than five percent,
above which they’d be subject to fines and/or loss of future draft
one of the considerations for Houston not choosing to select Rodon
with the No. 1 pick was Rodon’s unwillingness, through adviser
Scott Boras, to compromise on the full amount of the slot value for
the first pick. Aiken was willing to make the compromise, and that
paved his way for going No. 1.
Aiken, Kolek and Rodon were scooped up with the first three picks,
the rest of the first round went pretty much according to form with
four high school selections occupying the top six selections, and
then a run on college players through the middle part of the first
Chicago Cubs pulled the first big surprise early in the draft by
taking Indiana University catcher Kyle Schwarber at No. 4. The lefty
swinger was rated No. 2 overall on the Cubs draft board, but was not
seen as a consensus top-10 pick by most clubs.
there were more high school than college selections claimed through
the first two rounds (40 of 74 picks), but only 45 more prep picks
were made from Rounds 3-10. Once again, teams strategically drafted a
wealth of college seniors later in the first 10 rounds to give them
maximum flexibility with their allowable bonus pool limits. College
seniors have significantly less leverage than any draft demographic
and in all, 55 seniors were selected in the first 10 rounds, along
with 14 fourth-year juniors.