It felt like a steal when the Cleveland Indians landed Brady Aiken with the 17th pick of last year's draft. The former number one overall pick was coming off Tommy John surgery and dropped due to concern over the procedure. Sure, Aiken would miss the entire 2015 season and likely most of 2016, but the potential was there and enough Tommy John surgeries have been successful that getting his kind of talent midway through the first round seemed like a no-brainer.
According to a recent report from Jessica Kleinschmidt at Today's Knuckleball, the Indians appear to be worried about their decision.
Aiken has struggled in his first handful of professional starts for the Indians' Rookie League team, allowing 11 earned runs in 14.2 innings and issuing nine walks. Many Indians fans have remained unphased by his struggles -- working out kinks is what the Rookie League is for, after all, and he still has 22 strikeouts in those 14.2 innings.
However, in speaking to an unnamed scout at the Rookie League, the Indians appear to have some second thoughts. As Kleinschmidt said in her report:
"It’s evident from the numbers," the scout explained. "He’s been 86-88 miles an hour with his fastball, which is still really far down from pre-Tommy John velocities."
He also told me Aiken’s fastball velocity varied before the surgery, usually in the 92-96 range, and that the "Indians are worried."
Sitting at 86-88 is not a good sign for Aiken at all.
FanGraph's Eric Longenhagen was at Aiken's 2016 debut, and he noted the 19-year-old had actually beefed up from his pre-Tommy John form (an estimated 25 pounds larger), likely due to his gym rat mentality. Even with the added bulk, he is still throwing a full 3-4 miles per hour slower than he was prior to the surgery. Longenhagen also noted in his scouting report that Aiken's changeup was "firm and below average" in that May debut.
There is still plenty of time for Aiken to turn it around, and the stats at this level mean almost nothing, but if scouts and even the Indians are truly worried, and Aiken's velocity stays this low -- that is an issue.
The good news is that there is no rush to get Brady to the majors. The Indians currently have one of the best staffs in the major league and the majority of them are with the team until at least 2020. On top of that, the farm system is loaded with future pitching talent, including fellow 2015 draft picks Triston McKenzie and Juan Hillman, who have both looked superb in Low-A Mahoning Valley.