The Cubs are keeping Brady Aiken on their radar screen.
Actually drafting Aiken – who’s now recovering from Tommy John surgery – would be a huge gamble. Last year’s No. 1 overall pick couldn’t reach an agreement with the Houston Astros amid serious medical concerns that haven’t disappeared.
Theo Epstein’s front office plays the odds, viewing college position players as the safest bets and knowing that history shows pitching can come from anywhere in the draft. The Cubs have used first-round picks on hitters – Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber – in each of the last three drafts.
But the Cubs haven’t completely ruled out Aiken as they gear up for next week’s draft meetings in Chicago, trying to figure out what to do with the No. 9 overall pick on June 8.
The Cubs had Aiken as the No. 1 player on their board coming out of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego last year. The 18-year-old lefty is a high-risk, high-reward pitcher with enough potential that it’s unrealistic to think he will still be available when the Cubs make their second pick at No. 47 overall.
“We haven’t actually – on purpose – talked about it too much,” amateur scouting director Matt Dorey said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “Just because you get caught up in the innuendo and the rumors. We had a great relationship with Brady and his family last year. We were proud of the work that we did – and our area scout did – to get to know them.
“At the appropriate time here in the next week, when we sit down in a draft room and we really start to evaluate the players at the top of this draft, his name will come up, because it was literally a ‘1-1’ talent that didn’t sign.
“It would be very irresponsible to not have a conversation with our doctors, with Brady and his family, just to get an updated breakdown of where he’s at in his rehab, where he’s at mentally, so that he – and the player that he was pre-injury – is allowed to compete against the players that will be on our board this year.
“That’s fair to the player. That’s fair to the Cubs. It’s fair to our fan base to make sure that we just don’t take the easy way out and say: ‘He got hurt, he’s out of our picture.’”
Aiken publicly disclosed his torn UCL and elbow-reconstruction surgery through an essay for The Players’ Tribune – Derek Jeter’s digital publishing venture – in late March. On his Twitter account, he posted a photo from his hospital bed, giving the thumbs-up sign.
“We’ll just take all the information,” Dorey said. “We’ll let our doctors really kind of dig into the medicals, paint a pretty clear picture of what his rehab would look like. And then we’ll just compare the player that we scouted last year against the guys that we have a ton of information on this year – and let them kind of slug it out as magnets on the board.”
The Cubs don’t have an agenda and will take the best player available. Period. One year after taking an Indiana University catcher/outfielder with the No. 4 overall pick and giving him a below-slot deal ($3.125 million signing bonus), people are talking about whether or not Schwarber could help the Cubs in a pennant race this season.
“It’s not as clear-cut at the top of the draft this year,” Epstein said. “Some of the higher-profile talents got injured, and it’s just one of those draft classes that’s a little bit all over the place, which makes it more difficult, but also creates opportunity.
“We surprised some people last year and we like who we got. I think it’s an opportunity to do that again. When the sort of standout talents aren’t as obvious, it frees you up to take some risks here and there, too, and trust your instincts.”
Another player the Cubs scouted heavily last year – East Carolina University right-hander Jeff Hoffman – fell to the Toronto Blue Jays at the ninth pick after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Whether or not the Cubs are really serious about Aiken – or simply doing due diligence – it’s important to remember that they probably won’t have this kind of access to the draft during the next several years as the big-league team becomes more and more competitive.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion about: Hopefully we’re not picking this high ever again,” Dorey said. “This might be one of our last opportunities to really like go and shoot for the best player, the best impact, because as you start to win, you start to fall down the first round. We (might) not be looking at this quality a player in a long time, from the draft perspective.”