Cleveland Indians 2016 Top Prospects: #3 Brady Aiken

Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Cleveland Indians 2016 Top Prospects: #3 Brady Aiken

Loaded with potential, left-hander Brady Aiken is our top pitching prospect and comes in at Number 3 on our 2016 Cleveland Indians Top Prospect countdown.

Who is Brady Aiken?

Aiken joined the Indians this past summer as their first-round pick (17th overall).  Aiken was of course the first overall pick in 2014; however, after it appeared he had signed with the Houston Astros until the deal fell apart due to issues with his physical and he reentered the 2015 draft after attending the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The 19-year-old left-hander was originally drafted out of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, California.  He stands 6’4” and weighs 205 pounds.  Aiken unfortunately did not pitch in 2015 due to an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Aiken is all about potential at this point. Last season, he only threw 13 pitches last year at the IMG Academy before injury his arm and requiring surgery.  He’s started throwing in September and all signs are positive thus far on the rehab.

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Prior to the injury, he was throwing 91-93 with his plus fastball while hitting 97 at times.  He supplemented that fastball with a curveball, changeup, and slider.  His curveball is a true plus potential and by far his best secondary pitch. His changeup was pretty advanced for a high schooler, showing plus potential as well.  It’s that potential for three plus-pitches that had scouts drooling over him before the 2014 draft and led the Tribe to take a chance on him.

Despite not pitching for a year, many scouts still consider Aiken one of the best pitching prospects in the game, with Baseball America going as far as ranking him their 71st best prospect in all of baseball. Had Aiken not been hurt, he’d almost certainly be a top 25 guy ranking up there with the best in the game. So while there’s obviously still a big risk with Aiken given the injury, there’s also more upside in him than any prospect in the Tribe’s system. In fact, Baseball America gave Aiken the highest grade, a 65, of all the Tribe prospects.

Where Does He Go From Here?

There probably hasn’t been a prospect in recent memory harder to rank than Brady Aiken this year. Pre-injury talent wise he would hands down rank as the number one prospect in the Tribe’s system. He has Ace potential and a chance to be one of the best pitchers in the game at his peak. However, despite the advances in modern medicine, there’s still that huge risk with him.  Aiken will likely begin 2016 in extended spring training, continuing to build up his arm strength. He’ll then likely head to Short-Season Mahoning Valley once their season begins in June.  The Indians will likely play it safe with Aiken and use kid gloves on him for not only 2016 but likely 2017 as well.

When I think about Aiken’s potential and when one should expect to see him ready for the big leagues I think about Washington Nationals pitching prospect Lucas Giolito.  Like Aiken, Giolito required Tommy John as a teenager and concerns over his arm caused him to drop from a potential top five pick in 2012 to the 16th overall pick (one pick after the Tribe took Tyler Naquin). The Nationals, realizing the potential, took their time with Giolito and now four years later he’s arguably the top pitching prospect in the game and primed to make his mark in the big leagues.  While obviously Aiken isn’t Giolito, the potential and stuff are very similar and Giolito’s rise gives great cause of optimism with Aiken.

Next: Indians Top Prospects: #4 Bobby Bradley

Some may scoff at the idea of a guy coming off a major arm injury being top three in this rather deep Indians system. With pitchers like Rob Kaminsky, Triston McKenzie, and Justus Sheffield, why go with someone we don’t even know is healthy?  While all those pitchers have great stuff and potential, none are on the level of Aiken in terms of ceiling.  It remains to be seen how Aiken will pitch once healthy, but if he is even remotely close to where he was pre-injury he could be the top prospect in the Tribe’s system at this time next season.