It was less than a year ago that Brady Aiken was on top of the world. At the time of last June’s MLB Draft, Aiken was a 17 year who had wowed scouts with his pitching prowess, showing plus ability with his fastball and curveball as well as a solid changeup. The 6’4″, 205 pound lefty posted an incredible 1.06 ERA in 59.2 innings pitched during his senior season at Cathedral Catholic High School, striking out 111 batters while yielding only a .127 batting average against. The Houston Astros were impressed enough to make Aiken the first overall selection, the first time a high school pitcher had been taken number one since 1991.
Things quickly went south for the young lefty, however. Following a trip to Houston after the draft, it was leaked that the Astros had become concerned with Aiken’s UCL, which was found to be unusually small. While Aiken was healthy at the time, the smaller ligament made him more susceptible to a tear, causing the Astros to drop their signing bonus offer from $6.5 mil to $5 mil. A deal was never reached, leaving Aiken as the first number one overall pick to go unsigned since 1983.
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Recently, Brady had enrolled at the IMG Academy in Florida with plans to re-enter the draft in 2015. As Aiken describes in his piece for the Players’ Tribune, he felt something “a little wrong” during his first game last week. It now appears as though the Astros were warranted in their concerns about Aiken last June, as the young lefty has undergone Tommy John surgery after tearing his left UCL.
Aiken has no regrets, however. In his article, Aiken states “The money wasn’t the only factor to consider. I wanted to play somewhere I felt comfortable, with a support system I felt would lay the groundwork for a successful and long career. Making sure I had that in place was worth the frustration of not being able to get on with my career sooner.
Following his Tommy John surgery, there is little doubt that Aiken’s stock will fall in the 2015 draft. While this has not been too terrible of an obstacle for pitchers in the draft in recent years (Jeff Hoffman and Erick Fedde were taken in the first round last season after going under the knife), Aiken is a particularly interesting case because of his unusually small ligament. Will his recovery time be the same? What about his risk of re-injury? Aiken is undoubtedly still a first round talent, but how far will could he end up falling?
By virtue of their 82-80 record in 2014, the Milwaukee Brewers will pick 15th in this June’s MLB Draft. Milwaukee made several high upside selections with their top three picks in last year’s draft, and should Aiken be available at 15 this year, the Brewers could hit a home run by selecting the injured pitcher with “ace” potential, despite the fact that Brady will likely be unable to make his professional debut for another 12-18 months. On the flip side, given Aiken’s particular case, he would be lucky to find himself with Milwaukee’s organization.
Tommy John surgery has seemingly run rampant throughout Major League baseball in recent years. Teams like the Braves, Rangers, and Mets have found their pitchers to be particularly susceptible to UCL injuries over the past decade. The Milwaukee Brewers, however, have been among the best at preventing injuries to their pitchers. Since 2005, only the Giants have had fewer pitchers (11 in their system) undergo Tommy John than the Brewers, who have seen only 12 of their pitchers’ undergo the procedure in the last 10 seasons. Only two of those, Chris Capuano in 2008 and David Riske in 2009, were in the Major Leagues during their injury, the fewest among all teams in baseball.
While some of this success at avoiding injury could certainly be attributed to luck, it’s more likely that the Brewers’ award-winning medical staff plays a more significant role. The Brewers’ received the Martin-Monaghan Award for Best Medical Staff last season, becoming the first organization to win the award twice (they also took home the hardware in 2005). The Brewers’ have long been among the best at keeping their players off the disabled list, and certainly favor imparting a specific pitching approach to most of their young pitchers upon being brought into the organization. Budding ace Wily Peralta underwent the procedure back in 2007 as an 18 year old, and he has successfully avoided any sort of major injury since then. No team would be better suited to help Aiken not only recover, but avoid future re-injury than the Milwaukee Brewers.
Brady Aiken has found himself in a tough situation, undergoing the dreaded Tommy John surgery on his prized left elbow less than a year being chosen number one and failing to sign. The procedure could end up being a blessing, however, as Aiken was clearly uncomfortable with how the Astros handled his contract negotiations last season. Aiken himself said he wants to go somewhere he feels comfortable, and he would be hard pressed to find an organization better suited for his specific situation than the Milwaukee Brewers. With Milwaukee’s highly praised medical staff coaxing Brady Aiken down the right path during his recovery and rehab, the promising young pitcher would be well on his way to the top of the Brewers’ rotation in a few years. If Aiken falls all the way to 15th in the 2015 MLB Draft, he would be fortunate to find himself drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Brewers would be lucky to be able to bring such a promising young talent into the organization.