On Wednesday, for the first time this spring, Brady Aiken looked merely mortal at times. The left-hander from San Diego's Central Cathedral High School gave up four runs, doubling his total from his previous five starts, and couldn't hold a 5-0 lead as Granite Hills (El Cajon, Calif.) rallied for a 6-5 victory on a walk-off error.
Evaluators from the eight teams at the top of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft were on hand, including Astros scouting director Mike Elias, whose club owns the top selection. Though on paper it may have been Aiken's least-dominant performance of the year, he did nothing to damage his standing as a potential No. 1 overall pick.
"Aiken is really good," a national crosschecker said. "His curveball looks like a fastball coming [to] the plate, and then it just dives. It's a tremendous pitch. His fastball was 92-94 mph for the first three or four innings, and he pitched right at 90 in the fifth."
Though Granite Hills took some quality swings against Aiken, his defense did him no favors by committing five errors. Only one of the runs he allowed was earned, and while he surrendered three hits and a season-high two walks, he also struck out 11 of the 23 batters he faced in 4 2/3 innings.
A 6-foot-4, 205-pounder, Aiken entered 2014 as a possible top-10 choice with the upside of a lefty who could develop three above-average pitches. He's well on his way to doing that, as he has added velocity to a previously average fastball that now tops out at 97 mph and features good life while also showing more depth and power to his curveball. Aiken's circle changeup is deceptive and has some tumbling action.
Besides pure stuff, Aiken also has advanced command for a high school pitcher and wows scouts with his makeup. The UCLA recruit led Team USA to the championship at the 18-and-under World Cup in Taiwan last September, beating Japan in the gold medal game by allowing one run and fanning 10 in seven innings. So it's no surprise that Aiken has held up well under the increase scrutiny he has faced this spring.
"There's a ton of pressure on him, and he goes out and performs every time he pitches," the crosschecker said. "He stands up well to it. He's a real focused kid, a real good competitor. He didn't let anybody down Wednesday. A high school left-hander with two plus pitches and the ability to control them, that's a pretty good start."