Once again, the Astros are taking a pounding by the media for something in which precious little credible information has surfaced. This time, it surrounds number one overall pick Brady Aiken, who apparently has an elbow issue that has caused the Astros to re-evaluate their previous bonus offer. Here's a quick recap:
- First, there was a Houston Chronicle story quoting Aiken's CrossFit trainer, who said that nothing was wrong.
- Friday, the San Diego Union-Tribune published a story that was essentially a carefully-worded press statement from Aiken's camp saying that there is nothing wrong.
- Tuesday, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports published a story quoting Aiken's
agentadvisor saying that nothing is wrong.
- Late Tuesday, journalistic integrity bastion Deadspin published an article titled, "The Astros Are Trying to Dick Draft Picks out of Their Money"
- Other national writers, including Keith Law (vehemently) and Jim Callis weighed in with criticism of the Astros.
Then late Tuesday, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle followed up with another article, titled "Astros accused of manipulating draft and medical evaluation rules."
Amidst a rehashing of the he-said she-said story, Drellich supplies this information:
A person with knowledge of the situation told the Chronicle on Tuesday that there is a "cut-and-dry" issue with the anatomy of Aiken’s ulnar collateral ligament, even though he is currently able to pitch. Aiken has visited five doctors, the person said: two affiliated with the team and three who were not, including the renowned Dr. James Andrews.
Sorry, Keith Law, but that sure doesn't sound like the Astros are trying to game the system, it sounds like they're trying to reduce their invested risk. Then comes the money shot of the article:
"He may have some (of the UCL), but not much," the person said, adding that Tommy John surgery, which has become common in baseball, would not be a straightforward solution in this instance.
Read that again. Brady Aiken does not have much of an ulnar collateral ligament, which connects the parts of the elbow to one another. According to our resident Doctor Brooks, this condition might contribute to Aiken's ability to throw 97 mph because there is less mechanical resistance to the moving parts of his arm, but it certainly increases the likelihood of catastrophic injury. Additionally, surgery to add a functional UCL into his arm could very well slow his arm action and reduce his velocity.
Incidentally, former Cy Young Winner R.A. Dickey does not have a UCL. But to succeed with his condition after a series of well-publicized struggles to pitch professionally, Dickey had to turn to the knuckleball and was not truly successful until age 34. Not a great comp for a 1-1 draft pick half his age.
To me, this is yet another data point to illustrate the risk of drafting a High School pitcher so highly in the draft. At $7 million, you just don't know enough information.
It's easy to imagine a scenario where Aiken goes to college, has general soreness, and the rolling-in-money Athletic Department shells out for an MRI that he might never receive from a High School with limited budget.
The MRI would uncover the same thing the Astros found, and it probably would become, if not public knowledge, at least common knowledge among professional baseball scouts and front offices. That would severely damage his draft stock.
One more conspiratorially-minded wonders if his parents knew about this issue, and that this is why they so carefully monitored his work load in High School, to minimize the chance of injury and maximize his chance of being drafted highly. If so, it worked, because Aiken still stands to make at least 40% of the recommended bonus slot, or $3.2 million.
With this information now available (even anonymously sourced), there is no chance that if Aiken chooses College or JuCo to return to the draft at a later date that he will be drafted highly enough to receive even that much money. In other words - it's either take what the Astros offer or make far less later down the road...if his elbow even holds together, which no longer seems like a safe bet.
Once again though, the Astros have taken a pounding in the court of public opinion, but have somehow stayed the course by not smearing the Aiken camp in the media or by outing his "representative" Casey Close to the NCAA and thereby preventing Aiken from even having college as an option.
In this case, it seems that the Astros could be in the right. In the worst case for them, they will be paying over $3.2 million for a player who has a real chance of not making it to the major leagues at all.