Area Code Games Day Two: Aiken Takes Center Stage

LONG BEACH—What a difference a year makes. Lefthander Brady Aiken attended the Area Code Games last year as a rising junior and held his own against tougher competition. Tuesday he dominated with eight strikeouts in three innings and only allowed two balls in play, one of which was a hit.

His pure stuff and body have improved tremendously over the last year.

“Last year at Under Armour I was 215 pounds and now I am at 195-200 pounds,” Aiken. “I have been working hard to keep that down. It definitely helps and gives me more flexibility.”

The UCLA commit’s large 6-foot-4 frame has a trim waist and is now lean and projectable with room to fill out and add more good weight. With broad shoulders, long extremities and strong legs, Aiken has a well-proportioned and athletic build.

Mechanical adjustments to his delivery have also been a critical development. “I have been working on alignment, trying to be as straight as I can,” Aiken said. “Last year I was across my body with my front foot. That was causing me not to get my fastball in. So I have been working in and trying to get my fastball in to the righthanded hitters.”

Aiken has sometimes struggled to finish his pitches. After release, his arm would not follow through completely, which would leave his pitches up and his arm bent at an odd angle. Sometimes his arm coils after release.

“When I work with my coach I always work on slapping (his right hip) at the end after release,” Aiken said. “That is the key part and more depth and bite on my pitches.”

Aiken has an easy, smooth and athletic delivery. His arm is loose and fluid and has compact arm action. Using a high glove extension, Aiken creates deception and the ball jumps at hitters. Aiken creates downhill plane from a high three-quarters arm slot. He also gets over his front side well.

On Tuesday, his heavy fastball, which has been up to 93 during in short stints during earlier summer events, sat 87-91 mph with gloveside run.

His curveball, which previously lacked bite, has become one of the best curveballs in the class and generated numerous swings and misses. His 71-75 mph curveball, which flashed above-average, has 1-7 tilt, depth and abruptness of break.

“Lately I have been working more with the curveball and I have been starting to get that dialed in to it,” Aiken said.

Aiken, who plays travel ball for San Diego Show, used the pitch early in counts after establishing command of the offering.

“The first inning I had a couple of curveballs up in the zone and then I tried to work sight-down a little bit and get more depth and plane on my curveball,” Aiken said. “I throw a knuckle-curve and when I feel like it is not on, I go back to the normal grip and try to get more spin with it. When I feel like I have that down I go back to the knuckle. It gets more depth to the break.”

He also has a 78-82 mph changeup with fade that projects as an above-average offering.

Aiken would like to add a fourth pitch to his repertoire.

“I want to start working on a slider,” Aiken said. “I want to have four pitches that I can throw well.”

Aiken attends Cathedral Catholic in Cardiff, Calif., which was ranked No. 1 in the Baseball America High School Top 25 early last year, where he was a part of an impressive trio of lefthanders last spring. He joined 6-foot-5 Stephen Gonsalves, who went in the fourth round to the Twins, and 6-foot-5 Andrew Wright, who will attend Pepperdine and has a fastball that will touch the low-90s.

Aiken will attend the Perfect Game All-American Classic, which will be aired on the MLB Network, on Sunday before heading to the Team USA 18U trials in late-August.

Defensive Player Award

Baseball America would like to present the defensive player of the day award, sponsored by Wilson Gloves, to shortstop Josh Morgan of Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound UCLA commit showed soft hands and lateral quickness to snare a chopper in the hole and the arm strength to nail the runner at first with a strong throw. He also drove in a run by beating out a potential double-play, then stole second.

Area Code Notes
By Aaron Fitt

• Unsurprisingly, the pitcher who showed the most velocity Tuesday was flame-throwing righthander Tyler Kolek (Shepherd, Texas), who worked at 92-95 mph in his first two innings before dropping into the 89-91 range in his third and final inning. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Texas Christian recruit has shown premium velocity in the past, notably bumping 99 mph at an Area Codes tryout, but he actually was not at his best Tuesday for the Rangers team, as the Nationals did a good job putting the ball in play against him and touched him for three runs. His power breaking ball showed two-plane break and depth, and he showed the ability to throw it for a strike or use it as a chase pitch.

• The starter for the Nationals, righty Touki Toussaint (Coral Springs, Fla.), also showed quality stuff but struggled with his command and control, walking three batters in his first inning of work (one with the bases loaded). The 6-foot-2, 195-pound righthander sat at 90-92 and touched 93-94, complementing his heater with a 71-73 curveball with sharp 11-to-5 break. Another Nationals pitcher, lefthander Mac Marshall (Lilburn, Ga.), showcased a polished three-pitch mix. He worked at 87-90 and liberally mixed in a deceptive 76-79 changeup with good fade and sink, as well as an occasional 74 mph curveball with tight downer action. Marshall recently switched his commitment from Georgia to Louisiana State.

• A pair of Nationals also stood out for their bat-handling skills and aggressive baserunning. Outfielder Clay Casey (Collierville, Tenn.) served a 92 mph Kolek fastball the other way to right-center and turned it into a hustle double. He later scored from third on a heads-up play, sprinting home on an errant throw from the catcher back to Kolek. And center fielder Raphael Ramirez (Atlanta) singled in his first two at-bats, lining a single to center on an 88 mph Michael Kopech fastball, then beating out an infield single to the right side against Kolek. He then proceeded to steal second and third easily before scoring on a passed ball. A 5-foot-11 lefthanded hitter, Ramirez has plus speed and knows how to use it. He is uncommitted.

• Arizona State commit Alex Verdugo (Tucson) has generated more buzz as a position player this summer, but he impressed off the mound Tuesday, working at 89-91 from the left side and showing excellent feel for his breaking ball. Verdugo could add and subtract from the pitch, which ranged from 72-78 mph, mostly coming in at 75-76. He used it to strike out blue-chip prospect Jacob Gatewood.

• Only a couple other pitchers stood out Tuesday. Rangers righty Beau Burrows (Weatherford, Texas) reached 93-94 and sat 91-92, though his delivery has some effort. Athletics righty Bryce Dyrda (Oakdale, Calif.) worked at 88-90 and bumped 91, and he showed one of the day’s better breaking balls, a 73-75 mph offering with sharp 11-to-5 break and good depth.

• Oregon recruit Jakob Goldfarb (Scottsdale, Ariz.) showed off a nice lefthanded swing and good athleticism for the Athletics, turning on an 87 mph left-on-left fastball for a triple down the right-field line.

• Gatewood (Clovis, Calif.) is a premium power-hitting prospect, but he had a quiet day with the bat Tuesday, standing out more for his work at shortstop for the Athletics. The 6-foot-5, 190-pound Southern California commit demonstrated impressive body control, hands, arm strength and accuracy. He turned a tricky double play, reaching down and to the left to field a feed from the second baseman, then making a quick transfer and firing a strike to first.

• Athletics infielder Matt McLaughlin (San Jose, Calif.) had a pair of sharply hit singles, lining one to the opposite field on an 89 mph fastball, then delivering a crisp RBI single up the middle.

• In the day’s final game, the loaded Southern California Brewers team pounded the Northwest Royals 10-2, piling on with seven runs in the third inning, during which they sent 12 men to the plate. Cal State Fullerton recruit D.J. Peters (Glendora, Calif.) led the Brewers attack with a double to right and a run in the second, and an RBI single through the left side in the third. Luke Dykstra (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) reached base twice in the third, sparking the rally with a leadoff triple down the right-field line, then walking. Blue-chipper Alex Jackson (Escondido, Calif.) also smoked an RBI single to left-center in the rally, though he struck out in his two other at-bats. But he showed good agility and arm strength behind the plate.