Brady Aiken was the first overall pick of the 2014 MLB Draft. Adrian Rondon was widely considered the best prospect in the 2014 International free agency signing period. Both had interesting 2015 seasons to say the least. This past week, we finally got a little taste of what all the hubbub was about.
Brady Aiken has had quite the storied career before he even stepped onto the professional diamond. Aiken, of course, infamously became just the third first round draft pick in history to not sign with the team that drafted them. The Houston Astros reduced their offer by roughly $1.5-million after Aiken’s physical showed some elbow concern. $5-million simply wasn’t enough for Aiken, so he went back to the acclaimed IMG Academy in Bradenton where he threw out his elbow 13 pitches into his first start. The move cost him $2.5-million overall when he was selected by the Cleveland Indians 17th over all last season.
(some video courtesy of Baseball America)
Aiken didn’t pitch at all last season, and was in extended spring training to start this year. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Aiken made his professional debut this past Monday for the Arizona League Indians. It was only two innings, but it showed what the hype was all about. He opened the game with a walk, but then retired the next six batters in a row, including striking out the side in his second inning of work.
He started once again and pitched two more innings of shutout baseball Saturday evening. He did allow two hits in his second outing, but he also struck out two more and walked none. He has now struck out five and walked just one over his first four professional innings.
(More video from Indians Baseball Insider)
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Aiken was said to have a Major League ready three-pitch arsenal when he was drafted the first time at the age of 17. The 6-foot-4, 205 pound lefty throws a plus fastball, that works in the low-90s and tops off between 96 and 98 mph. He has a very deceptive change that he works well off his fastball, and he induces a lot of swings with a nasty curve. Now 19-years old, Aiken is showing command beyond his years, and will likely advance quickly through the system.
People came down hard on Rondon after a disappointing debut season last year. It was quite horrific, but in the same sense, he was 16-years old. Friday night gave the Tampa Bay Rays reason to get excited again.
(watch how exciting and quick his swing is in this video from FanGraphs)
Rondon was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2014 out of the Dominican Republic. Deemed by many as the best prospect on the market, the Rays went over budget and signed him for $2.95-million. To say they didn’t get their money’s worth in his debut is an understatement.
It wasn't just that he slashed .166/256/.234 for the Gulf Coast League Rays last year, it was how he did it. Rondon came to the Rays with advance bat speed and known for raw power generated by a swing that consistently made hard contact. Instead, he looked completely overwhelmed with professional pitching, striking out 57 times in 145 at bats, or what broke down to 35-percent of his plate appearances. He also failed to launch a single home run, leaving many to wonder just how far away Rondon may actually be.
Friday night may have silenced some of those critics. Still just 17-years old, Rondon jumped to the Appalachian League and made his Princeton Rays debut Thursday night. He went 1-for-5 and drove in a run, but still struck out in two of those appearances. Friday night was a different story.
Rondon launched three home runs off three different pitchers. Impressively, Rondon showed some unexpected opposite field power sending his first homer run over the right field wall. He added a three-run bomb and a grand slam — both of which he pulled over the left field wall — to his night, driving in nine runs altogether. He now has ten RBI in his first 21 at bats after posting 11 all of his debut season.
Rondon also did not strike out on the night, and actually worked a walked after being behind in the count. Two of his home runs — including the grand slam — came with two outs. He was showing the ability to be a professional hitter, while having that pretty swing on full display.
The 17-year old (who will turn 18 in just a few weeks) is known for his bat, but has a cannon of an arm for a shortstop as well. Unfortunately, Rondon has average speed and it limits his range, but he has yet to commit at shortstop this season. He may be destined for a position change, but at just 17-years of age, he also has plenty of time to master some of his raw skills.