Top pick Aiken excited to sign with Indians
Club expects lefty to be at full strength in '16 after having Tommy John surgery in March
CLEVELAND -- The Indians wanted to sign left-hander Brady Aiken as soon as possible, and the pitcher surely wanted to move on quickly from the events that followed him last summer. Both sides got their wish on Friday, when Cleveland's top Draft pick signed on the dotted line.
The Indians selected Aiken with the 17th overall pick in the first round of the Draft earlier this month, and they managed to sign the young lefty well ahead of the July 17 deadline. Aiken, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow, is already at Cleveland's training complex in Goodyear, Ariz., continuing his rehab.
"Last year, a lot of stuff happened, but we kind of just put that behind us," Aiken said from Arizona. "We're happy [with] what happened here with the Indians. We're excited to get moving forward. Everything happens for a reason. What happened in the past happened, and there's nothing you can do about that. We're extremely excited to be with the Cleveland Indians."
With Aiken officially in the fold, Cleveland has signed nine of its first 11 picks, all of which came within the Draft's first 10 rounds. The Indians have managed to go under slot value with many of their signees to date. The value of the 17th overall pick this year is $2,393,600, though the details of Aiken's bonus were not immediately known.
Drafting Aiken was a risky move for the Indians, considering the 18-year-old left-hander is currently making his way back from reconstructive elbow surgery and will be sidelined until 2016. Cleveland felt it was worth the roll of the dice, especially considering Aiken was highly-touted enough before the injury to be taken first overall by the Astros in the '14 Draft.
"Our scouts did a really good job and spent a lot of time evaluating Brady over the past two years," Brad Grant, the Indians' director of amateur scouting, said after drafting the pitcher. "We're very excited to have the opportunity to select a player as talented as Brady, with the character of Brady as well."
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti echoed that stance on Friday.
"We felt we knew Brady really well based upon the past experience we had and the chances we had to scout him prior to the 2014 Draft," Antonetti said, "While our exposure to him this year was more limited due to the injury, we still were able to see him pitch. We were actually at the start when he left [due to the elbow injury]. We feel we have a pretty good sense for his abilities when he's healthy."
Last year, injury concerns led to Aiken going unsigned by Houston.
Initially, the Astros offered Aiken $6.5 million, but the offer was reduced to $5 million after injury concerns arose from a post-Draft physical. When Aiken went unsigned, he joined Tim Belcher (1983) and Danny Goodwin (1971) as the only No. 1 picks not to sign a contract.
Aiken's image took a hit publicly for turning down Houston's offer, but Antonetti went out of his way to praise the pitcher's character and work ethic during Friday's conference call.
"We have zero concerns about Brady's character," Antonetti said. "In fact, we think that's part of what makes Brady so attractive to us."
That meant a lot to Aiken.
"I think it's really important that he said that about me, and I really do appreciate it," Aiken said. "Most importantly, there's a difference between reputation and character. Reputation is what people think of you, and character is what you actually are. What's most important is my character is what I am, and not what people think of me. I think that's what's most important to me and my family."
In his senior season at Cathedral High School in San Diego, Aiken went 7-0 with a 1.06 ERA in 11 starts. After he did not sign with the Astros, the lefty joined IMG Academy's postgraduate program in Florida and remained eligible for this year's Draft.
Thirteen pitches into his first start for IMG on March 19, Aiken exited his outing due to discomfort in his throwing elbow. Six days later, Dr. David Altchek -- the same surgeon who did Cleveland pitcher Carlos Carrasco's Tommy John operation -- performed surgery to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in Aiken's elbow.
The Indians feel confident that Aiken can return to the top-flight talent he was prior to the injury.
"What we're confident in is that he'll be able to return to his prior level," Antonetti said. "And, if he does that, and if he's able to get back to what we've seen in the past, we think that makes for a really effective starting pitcher."
Aiken is looking forward to doing that with Cleveland.
"Everything's going as planned," Aiken said. "We're just excited to get going here."