Potential top pick Aiken boasts makeup of ace
Repertoire, mound presence have high school southpaw at top of Draft boards
SAN DIEGO -- It's Brady Aiken's fastball that draws the flocks of scouts to Cathedral Catholic High School, about 20 miles north of Petco Park.
It's Aiken's fastball that's greeted by fans and opposing players alike with an audible "ooh" and excited whispering. And it's that fastball that has thrust him directly into the national spotlight as a projected top Draft choice and a potential ace.
But there is so much more to Brady Aiken than just a fastball.
If the Astros choose Aiken No. 1 overall on Thursday night -- like many, including MLB.com's Jim Callis, think they will -- it won't be because he can throw hard.
It will be because Aiken, at 17, already has a complete repertoire of pitches, and the command needed to locate each one. On top of that, he has the smarts to work through a lineup multiple times and the resolve to make sure he isn't satisfied with marginal successes.
"Brady has a very unique combination of amazing talent that gets demonstrated every time he pitches and a great head on his shoulders," said Gary Remiker, Aiken's high school coach. "He's handled all the attention and the pressure as good as I've ever seen a 17-year-old kid handle it."
Maturity and work ethic are the two characteristics Remiker is quick to point to when asked to place a finger on Aiken's intangibles.
As he has all throughout high school, Aiken wakes up at 5 a.m. for personal training sessions. He only pauses briefly in the offseason before his prep for the next year begins.
"It's about self-motivation and me trying to push myself," Aiken said. "I know I could be at the top if I work my hardest, but that means I have to work the hardest."
Aiken's work on the mound is never done. He's developed one of the best curveballs in the Draft to complement a fastball that tops out at 98 mph. Aiken keeps the curveball tight, with a late, sharp bite, making it almost impossible to hit when located.
And location is rarely an issue. Aiken's command has drawn rave reviews almost as frequently as his velocity.
"It's the velocity on the radar gun that gets the scouts to show up and gets their attention," Remiker said. "But I really think what separates him is his ability to command the strike zone, to change speeds."
To go along with the devastating fastball/curveball mix, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Aiken also has a changeup that clocks in about 10 mph below his heat. He's developing a cutter, too.
"The goal is to just maintain my command and velocity, and hopefully I can work in a fourth pitch like that [cutter]," Aiken said.
Aiken's polished arsenal is one of two major reasons many see him as a potential frontline starter. Aiken also has the ability to produce some of his best pitches late in ballgames.
In his first start in the San Diego playoffs on Friday, Aiken had put the go-ahead run in scoring position with his pitch count quickly rising. Just when fatigue appeared to be taking over, he reached back and painted the outside corner for strike three with a fastball clocked at 97 mph, letting out an audible grunt as he released the pitch.
"It seems like easy effort for a 94-96 mph fastball," Remiker said. "He's got more in the tank when he needs to lean back and light one up a little bit harder. But it's just easy gas."
Aiken (7-0) picked up a no-decision, as his club dropped into the loser's bracket on a walk-off home run in extra innings. That means Cathedral will have to win four straight games for a state title, the third of which is conveniently scheduled for Draft night.
The 2014 First-Year Player Draft will take place Thursday through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
"I watched Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman, and I was a huge Padres fan growing up," Aiken said. "When I started playing baseball, it was just one of those things I loved, and I've honestly never wanted to stop playing."
Aiken has never played for a losing team, which he says is a blessing and a curse. It makes the losses that much tougher to handle, but he said he harnesses every one into motivation for the future.
That competitive drive is not purely a baseball-specific mindset for Aiken, either.
"He's always been out on a field, doing something, playing something," said Aiken's father, Jim. "It wasn't always baseball. He just always wanted to be active and competing and playing a sport."
Brady honed his focus to baseball when he reached high school. He pitched three full seasons on the varsity team, and in the summer after his junior year, he was selected to the USA's 18-and-under World Cup team.
Aiken started two games in Taiwan and won both, including a dominant effort in the championship against Japan. He struck out 10 and allowed one run in seven innings. One pitch stood out for Aiken from that afternoon.
With runners on second and third and two outs in the fifth inning, Aiken gave Japan's No. 3 hitter a healthy dose of fastballs, running the count full. Then, he pulled the string on a changeup, getting an off-balance swing and miss, and Aiken was never in trouble after that.
"From there, it was the moment I knew there was no way I was going to lose that game, there was no way we were going to lose that game," Aiken said. "USA Baseball was pretty much the highlight of my baseball career so far. Winning a gold medal in Taiwan was unbelievable."
Jim Aiken attributes his son's coolness this season to moments like that. Brady has always been under the microscope, so why should a little extra attention this year change his focus?
"Traveling the country, traveling the world with USA Baseball -- he's played against all the best hitters," Jim Aiken said. "It's just been very, very competitive baseball for four years -- every summer, every showcase. He's always had hundreds of people -- if not thousands -- at games. He's used to it."
The crowds are only going to get bigger for Aiken in the future, but he doesn't seem to mind.
"I try not to think about anything that goes on outside the field," Aiken said. "I just try to go out there and help my team win some games. With all the stuff going on around me, and all the stuff going on over the summer, I learned to maintain my focus on the field, knowing that maybe at the end of the season I'll get drafted."