SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) — Brady Aiken was too polished to pass up for the Houston Astros.
The California high school left-hander mesmerized the team holding the No. 1 pick with his impeccable control, and was the first selection in the Major League Baseball draft Thursday night.
“It’s the most advanced high school pitcher I’ve ever seen in my entire career,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “He has command like I’ve never seen before of his stuff.”
That “stuff” includes a fastball that hits 96-97 mph, a knee-buckling curve and a tough changeup that sits in the low- to mid-80s. The 17-year-old from San Diego’s Cathedral Catholic High School is just the third prep pitcher to be selected first overall, joining fellow lefties Brien Taylor (1991, Yankees) and David Clyde (1973, Rangers).
“It’s really a dream come true,” Aiken said. “This is something that I’ve wanted ever since I was a young kid. I’m at a loss for words.”
The Astros are the first team to select first in three consecutive drafts, having picked shortstop Carlos Correa in 2012 and right-hander Mark Appel last year.
Aiken is the first high school lefty to be drafted in the first five picks since Adam Loewen went fourth overall to Baltimore in 2002. The UCLA recruit, who compared himself to Clayton Kershaw and David Price, is also in line to receive a huge contract. The allotted slot bonus for the top pick is nearly $8 million.
“There were a couple of people in the running (for No. 1), so we didn’t know until it came on TV,” said Aiken, who buried his face in his hands when he heard his name.
“And when it did,” he added, “it was unbelievable.”
The Miami Marlins made it the first time high school pitchers were the top two picks in the draft when they selected Tyler Kolek, a hard-throwing right-hander from Shepherd High School in Texas.
The 6-foot-5 Kolek has a fastball that sits in the high-90s and touched 100-102 mph several times, causing many to compare him to fellow Texas flamethrowers such as Nolan Ryan, Kerry Wood and Josh Beckett.
“How do you pass up a guy throwing 100?” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said after Miami’s 11-6 win at Tampa Bay. “So, I’m happy with the pick. It’s a big, old, country strong right-hander.”
The Chicago White Sox selected North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon with the third overall pick. He was widely regarded as the top college pitcher available and had been in the mix to go No. 1 overall. He followed a dominant sophomore year with a solid but not spectacular junior season.
Indiana slugger Kyle Schwarber went No. 4 overall to the Chicago Cubs as the first position player selected. He is a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award as the best catcher in Division I, although he could move to third base or the outfield in the pros.
Nick Gordon, the son of former big league pitcher Tom Gordon and brother of Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon, went fifth overall to Minnesota. The slick-fielding Florida high school shortstop was the first of the seven prospects in attendance at MLB Network Studios to have his name called by Commissioner Bud Selig, who is retiring in January and presiding over the draft for the final time.
After a few interviews, Gordon breathed a big sigh of relief and gave his father a huge hug.
“This is a proud moment. It’s hard to describe,” Tom Gordon said. “I have nothing but pride and pure joy for my boys.”
Gordon, from Orlando’s Olympia High School, also has some family bragging rights: His father was a sixth-rounder by Kansas City in 1986, while his brother was a fourth-rounder by Los Angeles in 2008.
“We’re pretty much the same player,” Nick Gordon said of the brothers. “You know, he’s got a little bit more speed than I do, I’ve got a little bit more pop than he does. But, you know, we model our game after each other.”
Twenty pitchers were taken in the first round, tying the draft record set in 2001. That includes two who recently had Tommy John surgery, but were still selected in the first 18 picks — a sign that teams are confident in the success rate of the procedure.
Even though they’ll likely be sidelined for 12-18 months, East Carolina right-hander Jeff Hoffman (No. 9 to Toronto) and UNLV righty Erick Fedde (No. 18 to Washington) remained attractive prospects.
“We just felt the talent was too good to walk away from,” Blue Jays scouting director Brian Parker said of Hoffman. “This guy was going to go top three, top four picks prior to his injury and we just felt like, even with the Tommy John, this was a good gamble for us.”
California high school catcher Alex Jackson, who was in the running for the top pick, went sixth to Seattle, which intends to move him to the outfield.
“I’ve been playing multiple positions my whole life,” Jackson said. “It’s nothing extra ordinary that has been thrown my way.”
Vanderbilt righty Tyler Beede was the 14th overall pick by San Francisco, becoming the 18th player in draft history to be selected in the first round of two June drafts. He went 21st to Toronto in 2011, but chose to attend college.
The first two rounds were completed Thursday night, with rounds 3-10 on Friday and 11-40 on Saturday via conference calls. Baltimore had yet to make a pick, while five teams — Arizona, Cleveland, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and St. Louis — had already had four selections.
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