Despite how atrocious the Astros have been over the last few years, the time will soon come when they're a good baseball team again – a really good baseball team, like better than any Astros team that's ever existed. And on that beautiful baseball team will be a dominant pitcher. His name is Carlos Rodon. Or Brady Aiken. Or Tyler Kolek. Whomever he is, his name will be called with the first overall pick on June 5, 2014.
Needless to say, June 5 is an important day for the Astros. Thousands of hours of scouting and research will culminate with the decision of who they select with the number one pick. Secretly they'll wonder if they just drafted a future Cy Young winner, or the next Bryan Bullington or Luke Hochevar.
With less than two months until that fateful day, it appears to be a three-man race for the top spot, between Carlos Rodon, the dominant college lefty – Brady Aiken, the fast-rising high school lefty – and Tyler Kolek, the high school pitcher who looks like a defensive tackle and throws like 200 MPH. So, who should the Astros select? Let's break it down.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know I have an unhealthy obsession with Carlos Rodon – his slider arouses me like no other. Prior to the start of the season, not only was he the consensus number one pick, but he was labeled THE SECOND COMING by many.
John Manuel of BA said he'd rank Rodon as his third best prospect IN ALL OF BASEBALL (behind Buxton and Xander) in early February. Superlatives like "one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation", "We just don’t see guys like Rodon very often, maybe once every 10 years", "Best college player ever", and "Better than David Price" were thrown around.
At times in 2013, Rodon was absolutely un-hittable, and his performance against Team Cuba (pictured above) was one of the most dominant pitching performances I've ever seen. A Scouting Director said, "There weren’t very many hitters on the planet that could have had a chance against him that night."
That same guy who turned draftniks and scouts everywhere into INCOHERENT FANBOYS COVERED IN DROOL WHY ARE WE YELLING is now ranked as the third best prospect by most of major draft experts. How did Rodon go from "one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation" to the third best pitcher in the 2014 Draft?
A combination of things happened. 1) He hasn't been as dominant as expected 2) His velocity is down 3) His slider has only been slightly above-average instead of plus-plus and 4) People are becoming more concerned with his workload, delivery, athleticism and long-term health.
As I write this article, he's 3-6 on the season, with an ERA of 2.15 in 71 IP. He's racked up 79 Ks, 24 BBs and 11 HBPs. It's not like Rodon's been awful – he just hasn't lived up to expectations, and looked more like a number 2/3 starter, rather than a future Cy Young winner.
Over the next two months, I expect Rodon to flash a bit more dominance, and firmly entrench himself in the conversation for the number one pick again. If the draft were today, I'd close my eyes and take him first overall pick, but I'm standing on very shaky ground, and could be swayed into taking either of these next two guys.
Brady Aiken was on people's radar's before the season, but not many considered him a top 5 pick, let alone the frontrunner for number one. At 17 years old, Aiken's polish and feel for pitching are that of a College Senior. Pair that with the fact that he has potentially three above-average pitches (fastball, change-up, curveball), and a 6'4" frame waiting to be filled out – it's easy to see why he's flown up draft boards this Spring.
In most of his outings, his fastball has sat in the low-to-mid 90s, but as his body continues to mature, he's expected to add a few ticks to his velocity. He possess a smooth delivery, which reminds me of Clayton Kershaw. He doesn't hide the ball, nor deceive the hitter like Kershaw, but the throwing motion is very similar.
I really like the fact that Aiken has advanced command for his age. In terms of upside, the sky's the limit, but he offers a lot of the same things Jon Lester offered coming out of HS. If he can become a 5-6 win pitcher like Lester, I'll take it.
If the Astros were to select Aiken, he would be the first lefty HS pitcher to go number one since 1991.
Although equally, if not more promising than Aiken, Kolek is a very different prospect. He's been considered a consensus top five pick for a lot longer than Aiken, but lacks the polish and pure pitching skills that Aiken possesses. His 100 MPH fastball is his claim to fame, along with the fact that he's built like Warren Sapp.
Right now I would only consider one of Kolek's pitches – his heater – a plus offering, but his breaking ball might become one in the future. Some consider him the "best pure arm in the draft", but he has a ways to go to reach his full potential.
His inconsistency, weight concerns, lack of athleticism, and lack of secondaries are what have him below Aiken for me. He reminds of me of Jonathan Gray – a boom or bust pitcher.
Although I share everyone's concerns, I still believe Carlos Rodon is the best prospect in this year's class. The reason I'm taking him number one is because he's the safest bet, has a good track record, and is the closest to the Majors, thus fits the Astros theoretical timeline for contention (next couple seasons). But I don't believe the Astros take him – I've heard they weren't as gung ho about him as I am.
After Rodon, I have Aiken as my second-ranked prospect. He "checks all the boxes", and uniquely possesses a high ceiling/low-ish floor for a High Schooler. Kolek would be my third choice, just because I'm not as enamored with his size, strength and velocity as everyone else. I'd rather have the total package that is Rodon or Aiken – Kolek has a highest bust rate of the three.
Gut feeling, I think the Astros take Aiken, and I'll be completely fine with that. Who do you guys want with the first pick?