Former top Draft pick Aiken's return uncertain

December 10th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Brady Aiken was the Indians’ first-round Draft pick in 2015 but has since become the team’s biggest mystery.

The left-hander did not make a Minor League appearance in 2018 and tossed just two-thirds of an inning in ’19, prompting questions about the pitcher’s condition. On Monday, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff provided some clarity, expressing their concern that Aiken may not be returning in the near future.

“He took some time away from the game,” Antonetti said. “And I’m not sure we know he’s going to come back next spring.”

Aiken was the No. 1 overall Draft pick in 2014 by the Astros, who offered him a $6.5 million signing bonus only to then rescind it when a medical exam revealed an issue with his left elbow. The Astros later offered $3.1 million, and then upped it to $5 million just before the signing deadline, but no deal was reached, and Aiken became the first top overall pick not to sign since Tim Belcher (Twins) in 1983.

Aiken then enrolled at IMG Academy in Florida and left his first game that spring with elbow discomfort that resulted in him undergoing Tommy John surgery.

In 2015, he was drafted by the Indians with the 17th pick in the first round while he was recovering. But since his injury, the southpaw never regained the mid-90s velocity he once had. Aiken posted a combined 5.83 ERA in Rookie and Short-Season A ball in 2016 and a 4.77 ERA in 132 innings with Class A Lake County in ’17. He didn't log an inning in ’18 and stepped away from Lake County after two appearances in April. He reportedly spent some time at Driveline Baseball over the summer but failed to find a fix for his drop in velocity.

“I think it’s just been a really hard path for him, a combination of injuries and he struggled performance-wise,” Antonetti said. “He put in a lot of effort to try to get back to being able to compete and he just hadn’t been able to get to that point yet. I think he’s hit that point of reassessing his future.”

From the first year of the MLB Draft in 1965 through 2015, only four No. 1 overall picks have been unable to reach the big leagues: Aiken, Mark Appel (Astros -- 2013), Brien Taylor (Yankees -- 1991) and Steve Chilcott (Mets -- 1966).

Antonetti said the message they sent the 23-year-old’s way was simple: “We’re here to help any way we can be helpful in supporting him to get back on the field.”