There are plenty of stories of top draft talents across each of the big four professional leagues whom fail to reach their potential in their respective sports. There is so much risk involved in selecting young men with minimal high school and/or collegiate experience and having the confidence that they have the skill set and mental makeup to reach the top tier of their game.
The Cleveland Indians are hoping that the risk involved in selecting Brady Aiken in the middle of the first round in the 2015 draft proves well worth it.
Aiken’s talent is unquestionable. He was selected with the first overall pick in the draft the season before by Houston, but after progress on a contract with the Astros was halted by the club’s concerns raised during a post-draft physical, the guaranteed money offered was altered and Aiken ultimately opted not to sign on the dotted line.
Aiken pitched for IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida last March and very quickly confirmed the fears of the Astros when his elbow flared up just 13 pitches into his first public start. Six days after leaving the game, he had Tommy John surgery performed on the same left arm that had made him a first overall selection and one of just three such picks in the history of the draft not to sign with his drafting club.
The Indians called Aiken’s name with the 17th pick in the first round in 2015, knowing full well the road that the young southpaw would have to travel to finally get his professional career started.
By mid-September, Aiken reported on his Twitter account that it felt “good to be throwing again”. This past January, he was still working his way through the process of returning to full strength, throwing from the mound at the Indians’ spring training complex in Goodyear, Arizona. Estimates on his potential return date are still hazy, as both he and the organization are going to take their time and use all of the necessary precautions to bring the lefty into the fold. When it comes to recovery from Tommy John surgeries, the Indians have had their share of experience with the procedure over the years.
“We saw that they’ve had success at the big league level with Tommy John guys,” said Aiken in a mid-January story on MLB.com. “Obviously, the main thing in baseball, you can’t play if you’re not healthy. So, having a good rehab system and having good coordinators and things like that, knowing that they are successful in the Tommy John recovery, that was a very big thing for me.
“I don’t think there could be a better fit, especially right now. I wanted to make sure that my rehab was going to be done correctly and not rushed. Everything they’ve done so far to this point has helped me achieve that.”
Recovery and rehab times will vary on the famed arm surgery, but they typically fall in the 12 to 18 month range. With Aiken’s age and his future at stake, the slow and conservative effort has been the way to go.
“There’s no timeline specific to Brady, where we’re saying we have to get him back on the mound. He’s so young. He’s got so much time,” said Indians’ director of player development Carter Hawkins in the same mid-January story. “We’re just going to do the rehab as efficiently as we possibly can and, as soon as he’s ready to roll, we’ll get him out there.”
Hawkins also praised the poise, effort, and dedication Aiken has shown through the rehab process despite being just 19 years old. He described him as being focused while also noting that he has fit in very well with the other players rehabbing in Goodyear and with the staff present. He has also developed into a leader within that group of players.
While it may be difficult to be patient while wanting to get his professional career officially started, Aiken shared a perspective that far-exceeded any short-term mindset.
“You have to be smart because it’s not about the next year. It’s about the next 10, 15 and so on years,” he shared in January. “I haven’t even thrown a pitch yet in professional baseball. I’m trying to make sure that that’s not my last pitch. I’m trying to make sure that I can last for a long time.”
Without a professional pitch thrown, Aiken has been routinely ranked at the top of the Tribe’s prospect list for the coming season, a nod to how highly he was revered coming out of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego. Once he does get to work, he will likely keep his name on the growing list of exciting pitching prospects on the farm for Indians fans to watch out for in the very near future.