"I think it's a little bit of a fluke, to be honest," Oakland Athletics assistant general manager Farhan Zaidi said. "The rest and the need for short-term dividends is part of it, but I think if the most talented guy is a high school pitcher, he'd get taken."
The thinking goes like this: College players are more proven commodities, with a deeper body of work both on the field and off. They're closer to making an impact at the big-league level, which is often a factor when poor teams -- the Astros are drafting No. 1 for a record third straight year -- feel pressure to get a player who can provide a quicker payoff and a bigger PR hit. High school pitchers have proven to take the longest to develop. For the most part, it's safer to project a three-year college pitcher such as Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg reaching the majors quickly and having an easier adjustment to a life with money and freedom.
"It's safer with a college guy, less of a risk, and there's more information available on him," said a scout who asked not to be identified because he's not authorized by his team to discuss particulars of the draft. "There are more unknowns with the high school kids, and baseball is a sport that has always been afraid of change. People don't want to be the first. You've got to hit on the first pick, and it's easier to hit with a college guy."
Not your typical high school arm
And here's where Aiken might be able to turn baseball's calculus on its old-school ear. His career path -- and yes, it has been a calculated path for some time -- is more in line with Bryce Harper's than Brien Taylor's. He did not progress through the analog world of neighborhood and high school baseball. He has been trained -- some might say programmed -- for this moment since his family hired his first personal trainer when he was 12. He exists in a world where advisors -- he and Kolek are both being advised by Casey Close's Excel Sports Management -- keep a raptor's eye on pitch counts, to the point of walking into the dugout to tell the high school coach when it's time to go to the bullpen.
Now, more than three months shy of his 18th birthday, he is polished both on the mound and off and speaks with reporters with the earnestness and image-consciousness of a 30-year-old looking to market his personal brand. He says the onslaught of scouts at each of his games has been beneficial to his Cathedral Catholic High School teammates because "they're getting to be seen too." He says, in slightly Harperesque fashion, "Later on, my goals are to help a team win a championship and, hopefully, make it into the Hall of Fame one day." The Making of Brady Aiken appears to have been both comprehensive and successful.
"Teams have probably seen him 100 times," said John Manuel, who has covered amateur baseball for Baseball America for 17 years. "They've had national crosscheckers and area scouts and even international scouts on him. There's an extensive track record, more in line with a college player."
During a time of heightened injury concerns, big league teams might be more open to taking a high school pitcher, especially one whose career has been as highly controlled as Aiken's, with the top pick.