The Indians had the seventeenth overall pick in this year’s draft; they ended up snagging the player picked first overall in 2014.
Brady Aiken was selected first last year by the Houston Astros, a situation that quickly became a debacle. The high school senior out of San Diego had comps to pitchers like Clayton Kershaw and Andy Pettitte. A number of scouts praised his mechanics, and said they thought he could be in the majors as soon as 2017. The Astros quickly agreed to a $6.5 million signing bonus, just two days after Aiken was drafted (unique, since some players and their agents drag it out for weeks). The figure was actually below slot for the number one pick. Everything seemed to be falling into place for the Astros and the promising left-hander.
However, by the time the signing deadline arrived, the Astros and Aiken failed to formally ink the deal. It made Aiken just the third number one overall pick not signed, and the first since 1983 (when former Indians pitching coach Tim Belcher failed to sign with the Minnesota Twins) The reason for the deal’s collapse? The results of Aiken’s MRI, which supposedly showed some abnormalities with his ulner collateral ligament. Not that it was torn, or injured, but because it was supposedly “smaller” than usual. The Astros didn’t dump Aiken completely; they came back with a lowball bonus offer of $3.1 million. There are rumors that they improved their offer somewhat toward the deadline, but Aiken did not sign and decided to take his chances in 2015.
The Astros received a lot of criticism for the move, since it seemed like the elbow issue was not necessarily a detriment to Aiken’s career. (Although medical privacy rules mean that the public may not know all of the details). Plus the Astros were still willing to sign him; just for less than the original $6.5 million offer. Since rumors say that the final offer ended up being around $5 million, they essentially created all of this havoc over $1.5 million.
They were sort of vindicated in a way, when Aiken underwent Tommy John surgery last spring. Did they see the elbow surgery in his future, or was this a completely different development? Will this solve any potential elbow problems, or will it create new ones? It’s always a risk when you take a player recovering from an injury, but when you have a player with Aiken’s ceiling, it seems like a risk worth taking.
The Indians are often credited for being a cautious team that does their homework. I’ve been critical of them in their draft choices for much of the 2000s, but I like the bold selection of Aiken. He’s not going to be ready in the immediate future, but that may not be a major issue. With the strong, four young starters they have in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar, they’re not quite as desperate for someone to reach the majors quickly. They have time to be patient with Aiken’s recovery and hope that he’ll be the pitcher everyone thought he would be when selected first overall last year.
One of the more recent injury gambles I remember the Indians making was when they took Scott Lewis in the third round of the 2004 draft as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. A lot of people thought Lewis may go higher, but were scared off by his injury and surgery. He actually looked like a promising young pitcher when he debuted for the Indians in 2008, but he couldn’t stay healthy and was out of baseball by 2009. It wasn’t all due to the original elbow injury, although that’s what ended his 2009 season. Lewis didn’t have the promise of Aiken, but does show that sometimes these gambles don’t pay off. There were 15 teams ahead of the Indians that did not take a chance on Aiken (16 picks – the Astros get two in the top 5 as a compensation for Aiken going unsigned last year); only time will tell if those teams will regret letting Aiken slide.
I think the Indians will be able to ink Aiken without too much trouble; he actually played for the IMG Academy before his injury this spring, which is basically a training and education facility in Florida. By playing for IMG, it meant that he could re-enter the draft this spring. If he would’ve attended UCLA (he was originally committed to them), he wouldn’t have been eligible for the draft until 2017. It seems like Aiken really wants to sign, especially after last year’s mess.
The Indians select again at number 42 overall, in the Competitive Balance A round. They won that spot via the competitive balance lottery – 6 teams win a spot, it’s open to the 10 smallest markets or the 10 smallest revenue pools. The Rockies, Cardinals, and Brewers were three of the other teams selected, while the Astros and Braves received their spot via trades (Astros with the Marlins and the Braves with the Padres).