JUNE 22: The bonus is for $2,513,280, Callis tweets.
JUNE 19: 5:25pm: The precise bonus value is not yet known but will be above the slot allotment, Jim Callis of MLB.com reports on Twitter.
11:10am: The Indians announced the signing of Aiken, noting that he’s already completed a medical evaluation with the team and is rehabbing at the club’s Spring Training complex in Goodyear, Ariz.
11:00am: The Indians have signed left-hander Brady Aiken, the No. 17 overall pick in this year’s draft, reports Jordan Bastian of MLB.com (on Twitter). Terms of the bonus are unknown, although the 17th overall slot comes with a value of $2,393,600, according to Baseball America.
Aiken, of course, has been in baseball headlines for more than a year. Selected with the first overall pick by the Astros in the 2014 draft, Aiken was widely expected to sign and even headed to Houston to take a physical and finalize his contract. However, the Astros came away from the physical feeling uneasy about the status of the ulnar collateral ligament in Aiken’s left elbow and reduced their bonus offer from roughly $6.5MM to $5MM. Aiken elected not to sign and in the offseason enrolled at the IMG Academy in Florida in order to be eligible again for the 2015 draft.
Aiken’s season at IMG didn’t last long, however. He left his first start of the season, stating afterward that “something felt a little wrong” in his throwing elbow, and further tests revealed that he had torn the UCL that had given the Astros pause. Aiken underwent Tommy John surgery shortly thereafter.
The injury naturally caused Aiken’s draft stock to drop a bit, but the mystery surrounding his elbow may have caused his stock to slip a bit further. Multiple reports headed into the draft indicated that there was general concern surrounding Aiken’s elbow because his Tommy John surgery and UCL were both said to be abnormal. Houston was said last summer to be concerned by general size of Aiken’s UCL — said to be smaller than a standard elbow ligament — and the difference from that of a straightforward Tommy John case created genuine befuddlement among draft experts as to where he might be selected and which team might take the gamble on Aiken’s highly talented left arm.
Cleveland stepped up and took that gamble, and the potential reward they face if Aiken is fully healthy and can have a normal career moving forward is sizable. Aiken was widely labeled as one of the top talents in each of the past two draft classes. Despite the injury, Aiken was ranked 17th in this year’s draft by Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs, 22nd by Baseball America, 24th by MLB.com (Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis) and 27th by Keith Law of ESPN.com.
Aiken sits in the low 90s with his fastball and has topped out at 96-97 mph, and McDaniel labels three of his pitches — fastball, curveball and changeup — as future plus pitches, giving each an average-or-better grade at present despite his age. Mayo and Callis praised his advanced command and a curveball that added more power and depth late in Aiken’s prep career. BA termed Aiken a “standout athlete,” noting that the former high school quarterback also comes with an ideal 6’3″, 210-pound frame. ESPN noted that as good as Aiken’s pure stuff is, his delivery is one of the cleanest they’ve seen out of a high school pitcher in quite some time (making the injury concerns all the more confounding).