GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As part of MLBPipeline.com's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we'll be sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Indians camp, it was No. 5 prospect Brady Aiken. The consensus top prospect in the 2014 Draft as a San Diego
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As part of MLBPipeline.com's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we'll be sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Indians camp, it was No. 5 prospect Brady Aiken.
The consensus top prospect in the 2014 Draft as a San Diego high schooler, Aiken went No. 1 overall to the Astros and agreed to a $6.5 million bonus soon afterward. After the team's post-Draft physical raised concerns about the size of the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow, the deal fell apart and he decided to attend the IMG Academy's post-graduate program in Bradenton, Fla.
In his first start for IMG in March 2015, Aiken lasted just 13 pitches before leaving with an elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery two weeks later. The Indians still drafted him 17th overall and signed him for $2,513,280 even though he wouldn't make his pro debut until June 2016. The 20-year-old left-hander went 2-5 with a 5.83 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings last summer between the Rookie-level Arizona League and short-season Mahoning Valley.
MLBPipeline.com: You've probably gone through more Draft drama than almost anyone. How glad are you to have all that behind you now?
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Aiken: It's definitely a relief to not have to go through any of that anymore. I'm worrying about what I need to worry about, which is baseball. I don't worry about that outside noise. I can focus on baseball, do what I need to do and go out and have fun.
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MLBPipeline.com: Looking back, were there any positives you can take from going through Tommy John surgery?
Aiken: It was definitely a roller-coaster ride. I had a great support system with me, a lot of family and friends by my side the whole time. I learned a lot from the situation. I got time to really grow mentally and talk to people I wouldn't necessarily have talked to, like Trevor Hoffman and Jamie Moyer. I took things away from it, like doing prehab to stay healthy throughout the year. It made me more humble and quieter, realizing how quickly things can be taken away from you. At the end of the day, it wasn't the worse thing. I'm definitely a better person now than I would have been if it hadn't happened.
MLBPipeline.com: How nice was it to just have a normal offseason where you could focus solely on getting ready to pitch, compared to the last two years where you were having to figure out where you were going to pitch or working on your rehab?
Aiken: It's awesome having a regular offseason and not having to worry about rehab or all of those other things. I've been able to work hard and prepare for a full season, mentally and physically. My elbow feels like normal now, like I didn't have surgery. That's a testament to the rehab I've done and the throwing program I'm on. I feel as ready as I've ever been.
MLBPipeline.com: After pitching with a 92-97 mph fastball in high school, reports were that you were working at 87-91 mph when you first returned to the mound last summer. How concerning was that and how is your velocity now?
Aiken: It's different for everyone coming back from Tommy John. I've talked to a lot of people, people who went down in velocity and people who went up in velocity. My velocity has come back now. Honestly, it made me a better pitcher to go out without my normal velocity. In the past, I was able to go out and throw the ball by guys. I had to learn to throw and locate all of my pitches. If I come back this year and throw even harder, that experience still made me a better pitcher.
MLBPipeline.com: With a lot of pitchers returning from elbow reconstruction, it seems like the finer points of pitching, such as feel for a changeup and command, take a little longer to recover. How is that coming along for you?
Aiken: Last year, I still had to figure out my changeup. I'm not sure if there was something in the back of my mind, but I'd get a little nervous when I'd pronate the changeup. Now everything feels good with all my pitches. I'm working on staying on top of all of my pitches. I know my changeup is important and I've been really working on it.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.