That's right, everybody; the time has come yet again for me to roll out another neverending batch of scouting reports for players we might possibly be fantasizing about our team selecting in the draft eight months from now. I hope you're as excited as I am. Actually, I take that back; I hope you're not quite as excited as I am, because I would feel terrible if I forced every last member of this website to hide an enormous erection all day long. And that goes double for the ladies.
Anyhow, now that I've gotten my first inappropriately graphic and juvenile dirty joke of the day out of the way, we can move on to the actual meat of the post. And by meat I mean, well, you can see where I'm going with this, right? Okay, glad we're all on the same page here.
I thought about beginning my draft series this year with a look at where the Cardinal farm system stands at this moment in time, as I have a few other years. However, while I'm not sure exactly when we're doing it, I'm fairly certain we'll be doing our staff top prospects lists again, and there will be plenty of coverage contained therein. Therefore, I will avoid simply duplicating the material we'll all be producing in the coming months, only in much-condensed and not-so-useful form, and go with something else entirely.
Last year I kicked off my draft previews with a triad of scouting reports on players who would be notable (at least to my mind), redrafts. It was, I thought, an interesting way to ease into the draft talk, by looking at a group of players already better known than most draftees by dint of them having already come up years before. I'm going to do the same thing here today, with the added bit of intrigue that all of these players come to the 2015 draft thanks to the same cockup in 2014, which is frankly rather bizarre.
Rather than the usual bit of me prattling on for another 500 words or so of intro, let's get right into the scouting, shall we?
Brady Aiken, LHP, ?????
6'4", 205 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Starting this one off with a bang, eh?
Here's the thing about Brady Aiken: he may come into the 2015 draft with the most interesting, most unusual story pretty much any player ever has.
Actually, let me amend that: Brady Aiken may come into the 2015 draft with the most interesting and unusual story any potential draftee ever has, if he gets to the draft at all.
I'm sure everyone remembers the rather enormous hubbub generated by Aiken and the Houston Astros in this year's draft, when the big high school lefty went number one overall to Jeff Luhnow's increasingly embattled organisation, then failed to sign a contract with the 'Stros after a physical exam revealed Aiken has an unusually, abnormally small UCL. (The Tommy John ligament, for a baseball site's purposes.) The Astros reneged on the deal they had already struck with Aiken, offered him the minimum necessary for them to receive a compensatory pick in the 2015 draft if he turned it down, and then watched as the clock struck metaphorical midnight (which was literal three pm eastern, if I remember correctly), without a deal. The sides appeared to agree to disagree, and went their separate ways quietly. Okay, not quietly, exactly; the story ended up dragging out over the rest of the summer, with plenty of saber-rattling and grievance-filings.
Which brings us to the present, and that bit I said a moment ago about Aiken having an interesting story if he makes it to the draft at all. See, at the end of August, Major League Baseball decided that the Astros and Aiken could, in fact, still sign an agreement, because all the other teams decided eh, what's the point of having rules and a deadline if you aren't just going to ignore them whenever the hell you want? However, it was further reported at the time that the Aiken family would insist on a sign-and-trade arrangement with the Astros if anything, as apparently people don't like having their Cheerios pissed in so blatantly and unpleasantly as Houston had done.
Since that time, there has been literally no news of any sort I have been able to find. The whole thing is, quite honestly, kind of a mystery. It doesn't appear Aiken has enrolled in school, either at UCLA where he was previously slated to go, or at a junior college which would allow him to reenter the draft this year. I've put out a few missives to people who I would think should have some knowledge of the situation, and they don't seem to know much of anything either. I've also tried asking my cat, and he's given me just as much useful information as I've been able to get hold of any other way. Which is to say, the Brady Aiken situation -- and by extension, that of the next player here -- is approximately as clear as a blank stare from a confused American Bobtail tabby.
If, however, we work from the assumption that the lack of a deal between Aiken and the Astros by this excessively late date means there likely will not be a deal, and Aiken will thus likely be back and draft eligible in 2015, then he presents an intriguing puzzle for teams to try and decipher. The crux of the puzzle, of course, is that abnormally small UCL; we really have no idea how much more likely his condition would make an injury, and depending on what teams believe to be the answer to that question, he could still go in the top ten, or fall well below where his talent would seem to dictate. The recent trend in taking players in the draft who already need or have already had Tommy John surgery, however, would seem to indicate that even a high level of certainty he will have elbow issues in the not-so-distant future would not be all that likely to push him out of the first round.
As for the stuff and the kind of pitcher Aiken is, very little has changed from what we saw out of him last spring, when his stock suddenly jumped from a mid- to late-first-round talent to the guy sitting at the top of the board, if only because we haven't seen anything from him on a mound to say otherwise. He has great size and the sort of frame scouts refer to as 'protoypical', and the stuff to match. A fastball that crept into the mid-90s consistently, hitting 97 a time or two during the spring, was the biggest difference for Aiken. Previously a three-pitch lefty with just average velocity, the sudden jump in his fastball oomphiness transformed him into a monster prospect. He complements the heater with a big, slow curve that shows good power and depth at times, while looking lazy and a bit too soft at others. There's a solid, advanced changeup in the bag for Aiken as well, and he even began mixing in a cutter or slider at times during the 2014 season. In other words, Brady Aiken checks all the boxes for a potential top of the rotation starting pitcher.
Which, of course, makes it all the more intriguing to see how this whole mystery shakes out. Personally, I'm hoping for the Scooby Doo ending, where Jeff Luhnow's mask is ripped off to reveal Old Man Withers, who was trying to ruin the Houston Astros by running the franchise into the ground and betting against the team.
I should point out this particular video is from the 2013 Perfect Game All-American, which took place that summer, before Aiken's spring 2014 jump in velocity and stuff. Still, I think this is good, in order to see the delivery from behind, and the quality of movement on the pitches, particularly the curveball.
Jacob Nix, RHP, Also ?????
6'3", 200 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Jacob Nix is, for now at least, best known as the other player caught up in the Brady Aiken situation. Here's the deal: Nix was taken in the fifth round by the Astros in 2014, and agreed to a deal with the club worth a reported $1.5 million. Unlike Aiken, Nix passed his physical, and was well on his way to pitching for the most dysfunctional organisation in all of MLB when the bombshell about Aiken's elbow hit. Given the 'Stros no longer had the full allotment of pool money available to them due to not signing their first pick, Nix's deal was....nixed. (Puts on sunglasses.)
A grievance was filed, sabers were rattled much as in the other situation, blah blah blah. Also like the other situation, I have no idea where the case with Nix stands. There was some thought MLB would bend the rules to allow the Astros to sign Nix without financial penalty, due to him having already signed and being completely blameless in what had gone down, but that didn't happen. As of now, Nix does not appear to be attending UCLA, has not signed with the Astros, and is generally living a life just as mysterious as the big lefty he is, for now, inexorably linked to.
Working off the assumption Nix will be available in the 2015 draft, he currently stands as one of the clubhouse leaders for Players I Most Want in this year's draft. He was on my final list of favourites in last year's draft, and I was heartbroken to see him going to a team I don't root for. Now, somewhat miraculously, the universe seems to have seen fit to maybe give my dreams a second chance at coming true. Be still, my beating heart.
Nix works consistently in the 91-93 range with his fastball, and he generates outstanding plane on the pitch, pushing it down in the zone much the way Michael Wacha does at his best. His best secondary pitch is a nasty changeup with split-finger action, dropping almost straight down at the plate and just generally making VEB authors' naughty bits tingle.
The breaking ball for Nix is still a question at this point, as it tends to wander behind sliderdom and curvehood. The pitch has generally good depth either way, but it isn't consistent at all. He'll need to tighten it up regardless of which sort of breaking ball he eventually decides to try and throw, but he's shown enough feel for spin already I feel confident he can do so.
The kicker for me on Nix is the delivery. I love his arm action. Love it. Love it like...um, I can't think of a funny thing here, so insert your own joke about how much I love Jacob Nix's arm action, if you please. A fantastic delivery, a hard-enough fastball with excellent movement and downward plane, and a swing and miss changeup? I'll take that every day of the week, and twice on Sundays.
There's a bit of Dan Haren for me in Jacob Nix, and that's one of the highest praises I can offer a pitcher in comp form. If he is, in fact, available in the 2015 draft, and if he is, further, still on the board when the Cardinals go on the clock for the first time, I would dance naked in the streets to see them call his name. I did it for Kaminsky, and I'll do it again.
Mac Marshall, LHP, Chipola Junior College (Florida)
6'1", 180 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
And so we come to the final member of this Terrible Troika of Tumult, in the form of Mac Marshall, an athletic lefty from Georgia whose strong LSU commitment caused him to fall all the way to the 21st round, where he, too, was scooped up by the Houston Astros, only to become caught up in the Aiken saga much the same as Jacob Nix.
Marshall, after appearing close to a deal of his own with the 'Stros, eventually went on to LSU, only to then leave the program in September to transfer to a juco in Florida in order to reenter the draft in 2015. His status is much less up in the air, and so I can say with much more confidence he absolutely will be a part of this coming June's draft class.
As for the repertoire, Marshall hasn't ever really shown his best stuff for extended periods of time to date, but the potential he's flashed has been more than enticing enough he'll likely go in the first two rounds of the draft, I believe. His fastball has been up to 95, though it's usually more in the 90-92 range, and the pitch is a little on the straight side. He tends to work up in the zone with it, as well, which would seem to make him vulnerable to the long ball, but we've seen shorter pitchers throw high fastballs and get surprisingly good results in terms of weak contact in the past. Something about the plane being too flat for many hitters' swings, I believe. Marshall isn't built quite as thickly, but there's a bit of a Mike Hampton feel to watching him throw, at least to my eye. His changeup is his best present offspeed pitch, and it's very good, with more deception than movement, but he sells it so well it doesn't need a ton of break to get results.
He throws both a curveball and a slider, though it's possible the two are the same pitch, honestly. For my money, the harder, more slider-y breaker he throws looks better, more promising, and I would probably nudge him in that direction if anyone asked for my input. The biggest question for him in terms of repertoire is a seeming inability to maintain his stuff deep into games, or bring it consistently from start to start. He's not a particularly physical athlete at this point in time, so there is some thought he might be the sort who ends up a better fit for relief work down the road. I'm not a huge fan of the delivery, so I might be inclined to at least somewhat agree, but I would also give him every chance to start before I made that decision. The occasionally plus velocity, combined with one very good offspeed pitch, could make him a fit in the late innings if he is ultimately unable to refine a solid breaking ball or build stamina. Marshall is well behind Nix for me in this particular group, and probably behind Aiken as well, even with the spectre of the unknown hanging over the more heralded lefty's health status. Still, there's some real upside here, particularly considering the level of polish already present, not to mention plus athleticism and arm speed, in a player as young as Marshall will be on draft day.
The 2015 draft is still over half a year away, and already it's looking like an historically intriguing one, considering the group of pitchers all returning to the pool a year after being drafted by the Astros. And as for the 'Stros themselves, even that compensatory pick near the top of the draft can't entirely take away the sting of losing out on three pitchers, all of whom likely had first-round talent, because they weren't willing to just pony up the amount they originally promised the kid before they got a good look at his elbow. I can understand not wanting to hand Brady Aiken the full value of the contract, considering how uncertain his future looks, but the fact is, Houston likely had a way to work out deals with all three of these pitchers. Refusing to give Aiken the $3 million difference between the agreed-upon amount and the 'Stros pick-saving offer and thus losing out on both of the other guys seems, to me at least, to be the very definition of penny wise and pound foolish.
And that, dear friends, is the first edition of the 2015 draft preview in the bag. I apologise for the lateness, but I didn't get started as early as I would have liked; normally I try to at least get these partially done on Tuesday evening, but it was my father's birthday yesterday, a fact I failed to take into account when I wasn't working on this Monday or even over the weekend, as I should have been.
Anyhow, I'll be back next Wednesday with the second piece, on some other interesting redrafts, including yet another Astros pick who didn't sign, though the story there isn't nearly so fascinating as the saga of Aiken, Nix, and Marshall.
I'll see you all soon.