Aiken to be draft eligible in 2015

After being selected No. 1 overall in the 2014 amateur draft, Brady Aiken thought that he was about to become a member of the Houston Astros organization with a $6.5 million signing bonus. But an abnormality in his elbow showed up during his physical and the two sides wound up not agreeing to terms. It was unclear what the left-hander’s next move would be, but on Thursday we got an answer.

According to ESPN’s Keith Law, Aiken will head to Florida and pitch for the postgraduate team at IMG Academy in Bradenton. The decision allows the talented southpaw to re-enter the draft in 2015 and be available for 29 of the 30 teams to select — the Astros can only pick Aiken again if there’s consent on his part.

The 18-year old joins fellow 2014 draftee Jacob Nix — who was also involved in the mess with Houston — at IMG. The right-hander was selected in the fifth-round last year and his $1.5 million over slot bonus hinged on whether or not the Astros would be able to secure Aiken for the $6.5 million number — more than $1 million under the slot value — that was agreed on.

As the drama with Aiken unfolded, Nix waited in the wings only to let the signing deadline pass without an agreement. The right-hander slipped last year due to a college commitment to UCLA, but is expected to go higher in this year’s draft provided he’s healthy.

What exactly happened between Aiken and the Astros is still unclear. But we do know the following:

  • Aiken and the Astros agreed to a deal including a $6.5 million bonus.
  • Aiken’s physical revealed an unusually small ulnar collateral ligament.
  • The Astros were believed to have lowered their offer to $5 million.
  • Aiken’s agent, Casey Close, made comments that the revised offer was actually only $3.16 million or the minimum the team had to offer in order to receive a compensation pick in next year’s draft.

Aiken isn’t the first pitcher to have the results of a physical reduce a potential signing bonus or dissolve negotiations. The most recent case would be that of Barret Loux and the Arizona Diamondbacks back in 2010. Loux was selected No. 6 overall and had an agreement for a $2 million bonus. But his physical revealed a labrum tear and the D-Backs withdrew their offer. Unlike in Aiken’s case, Loux was granted free agency.

Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey was drafted No. 18 overall in the 1996 amateur draft by the Texas Rangers and agreed to an $810 thousand signing bonus. His physical revealed that he was in fact missing an ulnar collateral ligament and the Rangers reduced his bonus to $75 thousand. Years later Dickey would take on the knuckleball as a last ditch effort and eventually found success.

Under normal circumstances, a team would be fully within their rights to withdraw a contract offer if a physical revealed a serious issue that could compromise their investment. That’s the whole of point of the physical in the first place. From time to time we see this happen. However, this case is much different.

Houston believed that the ‘abnormality’ was significant while Aiken’s camp felt otherwise. The left-hander had yet to show any signs of hinderance due to the smaller UCL, but conceivably, it could become an issue down the line. There’s no direct correlation between the condition and, say, Tommy John surgery, however. The Astros then attempted to leverage the medical issue in a way that would force Aiken to sign for a lower bonus — the exact minimum requirement.

The whole situation is a mess, and the Astros go forward looking terrible. Also hurt are the kids, Aiken and Nix, who not only lose out on the money, but on an important year of development time. But that’s all in the past and it’s time to look forward.

The 2015 draft class is considered by many to be below average, and Aiken brings the same tools that landed him the No. 1 spot in a much better draft class overall.

At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds the southpaw has projectable size — he’s already filled out his frame. The athleticism and consistent mechanics create a very repeatable and clean delivery. A sample can be seen in the following video.

Aiken’s fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90’s and can touch 96-to-97 miles per hour. He has an above-average to plus curveball that sits in the upper 70’s and can be used as an out-pitch. His changeup is solid average and sits in the low-to-mid 80’s. He displayed very good command as a 17-year old and was unusually polished for a high school kid — hence all the buzz.

It’s almost hard to think that his stuff could improve as an 18-year old considering how advanced he is already, but we should get an answer to that in the coming weeks. Law’s source suggested that Aiken will get seven-to-nine starts at IMG and will be able to pitch a full summer, if healthy, in the organization that selects him.

The Diamondbacks hold the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, with the Astros and Colorado Rockies in the No. 2 and 3 spots respectively. All three could use pitching and the Rockies have had a notoriously hard time attracting free agent pitchers to the hitter-friendly Coors Field.

It’s been a long nine months for Aiken, but with any luck, he’s only a few months away from a positive outcome and the beginning of a prosperous career.

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Tyler Carmont

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