MLB Draft Prep was already looking a bit lengthy this week when it became public that 2014's top pick, Brady Aiken, underwent Tommy John surgery this week. I could briefly mention it, or assume you knew. Neither of those seemed like good options. Neither did minimizing the rest of my upcoming article. Hence, I'm going Special Edition to discuss his situation as we know it now.
I'll start by noting the debacle that has Aiken and Jacob Nix draft-eligible in June. Briefly, and if you don't want to read the link, the Astros signed most of the selections they were going to sign a bit early, leaving prep arms Aiken and Nix for the end. They knew how much they had left, and had "assured" Nix they would sign him once Aiken signed. While their medics didn't find anything specifically ailing with Aiken, they thought he had less ulnar collateral ligament than he should. If he were to become injured and need TJS, they reasoned, that could be a problem.
They offered Aiken a new number for his contract, even though he wasn't injured. That new number wasn't a higher figure than previously offered. Aiken balked, but not in a "costs you a base" fashion. Therefore, Nix, who also was healthy and ready to go, had his contract offer rescinded. The main penalty the Astros paid was one of credibility. They have a replacement pick in June (they draft second and fifth), and life largely went on as usual for everyone but Aiken and Nix. Both were enrolled at Florida's IMG Academy.
Thursday's news of Aiken's surgery has led some to say the Astros were "right" in their actions. I don't think it makes any sense to go there. Their medical staff may have projected things correctly. Or, maybe he has a great career anyway. It sounds as if Aiken is glad to not be an Astro, The question becomes, should the Cubs want him as their first pick in June?
To go back a bit, I wanted the Cubs to draft Aiken last year. I have, historically, been a bit willing to roll the dice on injured pitchers before. So, you might expect me to be bullish on drafting Aiken. I'm not.
First off, I've heard internet whispers that there may have been "complications" with the surgery. As I work in health care, I should probably take unverified chatter for the garbage that it likely is. However, as specious as it may well be, that gives me pause, as it could be true.
Secondly, the pattern of "grab the best bat available first, and pitching later in volume" seems to have been working rather well. While it would be nice to grab an "ACE" with the ninth overall pick in June, Aiken would likely take a decent chunk of the Cubs' rather limited amount of bonus pool money. Not only would taking him risk providing no value, choosing him would highly limit the potential of getting another prep arm later at a more reasonable price. And the Cubs draft would have very little offensive punch in it, and the Cubs' burgeoning offense has other teams concerned.
With Aiken's injury, one rumor I have heard floated is the Red Sox taking him with the seventh overall pick. This would be fine with me, as it fills a few preferences. It keeps him out of the National League, if he is good when healthy. As the Sawks pick before the Cubs, it would eliminate one potential option off of the Cubs board that I would like to see them pick. Then, the Cubs would go with whatever bat plays the best for the mid-term future. Grab the player with the best chance at a 10+ future WAR, save a bit along the way for the draft pool, get a guy who can start producing in the system right away, and be ready for the second round without inhibitions.
The pitching should be ready, and probably somewhat soon. I doubt the "waves and waves" of pitching will have fully arrived by July of 2015. The premise is to have a steady stream coming through the pipeline, and pitching takes longer than hitting. Whether the next name will be C.J. Edwards, Corey Black, Pierce Johnson, or someone else, they are receiving the same sort of instruction that has brought along Kyle Hendricks.
The High-A team in Myrtle Beach ought to fill in some of the weaknesses, and some 2014 selections will do the same. Even if healthy, Aiken wouldn't be ready until 2018 at the soonest. By grabbing an advanced college bat, the return-on-investment would start to register sooner. Grabbing something with a bit more certainty than a player currently rehabbing his elbow seems a bit more reasonable.
If you wish to argue in favor of Aiken if available, have at it. You could be correct. While proof-reading this, I found this article on the surgery. The 538 prefers it to shoulder problems. You might be willing to wait the probably four to five years of incubation on Aiken. I fear too many things could go wrong, and would much prefer a player who should be in Double-A in 15 months, instead of just beginning throwing in the back fields in Mesa.
Developing pitching is about quantity and quality. Investing in Aiken will limit the benefit the Cubs receive in the draft by 2018 a bit too much for my tastes. If the front office pulls the trigger that way, I'd be surprised and a bit upset. Of course, I was upset when they gambled on a catcher-who-couldn't-catch in Kyle Schwarber. I was wrong then. Maybe I'd be wrong again, but I still prefer hitting to pitching in the early draft rounds.