Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

MLB Draft: Houston Astros likely to take Brady Aiken no. 1 overall?

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In a draft that lacks a consensus top player, a high school pitcher who isn’t even 18 years old yet might have emerged as the most likely player to be selected with the no. 1 overall pick.

For a while many people thought that the Houston Astros would select left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon, out of North Carolina State, with the first pick. Rodon is considered the most major-league ready prospect in the draft, but then again, what use do the Astros have for that if they feel somebody projects out better long term?

Enter left-handed pitcher Brady Aiken, a high school arm out of Cathedral Catholic in San Diego, CA. While the Astros are still playing things close to the vest, a round-up of rumors and mock drafts points to Aiken as the emerging candidate for that top selection.

Start with Peter Gammons, who spoke to executives that see Aiken as the top talent:

Or they will take San Diego high school lefthander Brady Aiken, who two general managers Sunday each said has “separated himself from the rest of the field.”

Jim Callis’s most recent mock draft on MLB.com has Aiken going to the Astros with the no. 1 overall pick, with the following explanation:

“Houston’s decision likely will come down to Aiken, Rodon and Jackson, none of whom is expected to command the full $7,922,100 assigned pick value. There’s increasing chatter that the Astros might play it safer by going for a bat, but the guess here is that they’ll pop the Draft’s top-rated prospect in Aiken.”

The Jackson referred to would be Alex Jackson, an outfielder out of San Diego. Then there is Evan Drellich, on the Astros’ beat for the Houston Chronicle, who also seems to sense Aiken’s rise up the board:

Rodon was the industry’s consensus best available player heading into this spring, but the North Carolina State lefthander might have been surpassed by a younger southpaw, Aiken, a polished San Diego product who draws Cole Hamels comparisons.

The main question people have about the Astros is this: do they view a pitcher in the top spot to be risky enough that they would rather go with a hitter? How much will the struggles of Mark Appel, last year’s no. 1 overall pick in Houston, weigh on their mind?

In a scouting report for Baseball Prospectus (subscription required), Nick J. Faleris writes about Aiken’s poise and his ability to throw both of his top pitches (fastball/curveball) for strikes consistently. That report seems to also suggest a guy who can make adjustments on the fly, a key skill in the big leagues.

Do those skills make him less risky, such that his upside is worth that pick? Or will the Astros shy away from pitching this year? We will find out Thursday when the 2014 MLB Draft gets underway.

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