School: Cathedral Catholic HS (CA)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 210
College Commitment: UCLA
“His once-average fastball is now topping out at 97 mph and sits 92-94 mph, featuring both run and sink. He commands his fastball well and throws all three of his pitches for strikes. He gets good depth on his curveball and keeps hitters off balance with his changeup” –MLB.com
Despite owning three potential plus pitches, Aiken’s command may be his calling card, with Baseball America writing “He stands out most for his extraordinary ability to command his entire repertoire.” This is particularly rare for a prep prospect. Baseball America also raves about Aiken’s pitching IQ, his advanced feel for pitching, his athleticism, his ideal pitchers frame and his ability to make adjustments.
Keith Law at ESPN wrote that “Prep lefties with the kind of refined repertoire that Aiken has are extremely rare” and when watching Aiken in mid March he saw four pitches- fastball, curve, change and slider, with the fastball and curve both showing as plus offerings.
Aiken’s advanced feel for pitching and current level of stuff mean that he could progress through the minors much quicker than the typical prep pitching prospect. This should give Aiken significantly less “projection risk” than the average high school pitcher.
Note: these grades are my summations based on all readily available scouting information from sources such as Baseball America, MLB.com and ESPN (Present/Future, 20-80 scale):
Prospect Overview and Future Outlook:
Aiken was seen as a potential top-10 pick entering this year but his velocity has jumped from high 80’s/low 90’s to mid 90’s and touching 97. That has sent his stock skyrocketing to the point where he is now almost universally considered to be the #1 guy in this draft class.
If I have one concern with Aiken it’s that he possibly doesn’t have that go-to strikeout pitch that will allow him to rack up the monster K numbers that you may typically want to see from an ace. Hopefully his curve could become that pitch in time, but he doesn’t have anything that measures up to Rodon’s slider, for example. His overall package is excellent though, and he looks to have a very good chance to develop three plus pitches with plus command. Some reports even indicate his slider is a promising fourth offering. All reports on his delivery and mechanics are very positive, as he’s got a smooth, easy, repeatable motion that will hopefully allow him to stay relatively injury free, at least during the early part of his career.
As long as Aiken doesn’t have problems striking out batters, his mix of plus stuff and plus command should easily allow him to develop into an ace type pitcher. If he’s more of a 7.5 K/9 guy then he should still develop into a very valuable #2/3 starter, giving Aiken an unusually high floor for a prep pitching prospect. I like Aiken a lot, and have for some time. He comfortably sits atop my draft board.