A former 2014 number one overall pick by the Houston Astros and actual 2015 first round pick (#14 overall) by the Indians, Brady Aiken was drafted despite having undergone Tommy John surgery at age 18.
After 10 months on the sidelines, Aiken began pitching from the mound again this past January, demonstrating a smooth, effortless delivery.
While most prospects are judged completely by results, pitchers coming back from major surgery are given a bit of leeway in their first year or two back. You don’t want a repeat of the Angels giving up on Mike Clevinger after all.
Aiken finally made his professional debut as the opening day starter for the AZL Indians in the rookie league on June 20th. The start went well, as he pitched two hitless innings while striking out three.
The rest of Aiken’s tenure in Arizona was significantly less memorable. Rumors of decreased velocity swirled and he was tattooed in six of his next seven appearances, raising his season ERA to 7.13. He carried a .308 BA against and a 1.88 WHIP. .
On the bright side, the strikeouts were still coming. The southpaw struck out 35 batters in his 24.0 innings pitched during his AZL stint.
Surprisingly, despite his struggles at the bottom level, the Indians decided to promote Aiken to Low-A Mahoning Valley, and he rewarded their initiative by significantly improving against stiffer competition.
Aiken was able to successfully pitch into the fifth inning in four of his five starts for Mahoning Valley, and the highlight of his young season was a three start stretch from August 17-27 where he pitched 5.0 innings in each start, gave up one run and three hits in each start and struck out at least five batters in all three starts.
Here’s a highlight video taken from the middle start during that hot stretch.
By the end of the season, Aiken’s velocity was touching 92, which is a good sign that his arm is starting to fully recover.
The Indians stretched him all the way out to 83 pitches in his final start of the season on September 1st, although he didn’t have his best stuff that day, giving up five runs in 4.1 innings.
All in all, Aiken’s performance was considerably improved at Mahoning Valley. He dropped his ERA from 7.13 to 4.43, his WHIP from 1.88 to 1.25 and his BA against from .308 to .233.
None of the scouts around America are panicking about his recovery from Tommy John as Aiken is listed as the Indians’ #4 prospect by Baseball America, the Indians #2 prospect by MLB Pipeline and the 63rd best prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline.
Depending on how the Indians feel about Aiken’s development, he could either start 2016 at full season Single-A Lake County, or he could wait and begin the season at Low-A Mahoning Valley. The good news is there’s absolutely no rush.