Not only is this draft class one of the weaker drafts in terms of overall talent level; this is also a crop that is riddled with injuries. The most prominent injury was that of IMG Academy's Brady Aiken, who underwent Tommy John surgery, and he will miss all of this season. However, there are a lot more: potential top five shortstop Alex Bregman has struggled with knee problems, prep pitcher Kolby Allard has struggled with back issues; and finally, Michael Matuella struggled with a back problem before undergoing Tommy John surgery to end his season as well.
Both Aiken and Matuella are pitchers who could have easily taken the top spot in the draft if everything came together, but that is not the case. They now have slipped in mock drafts all the way to the second half of the first round, right in the Yankees' wheelhouse. Should the Yankees pull the trigger on one of them?
Aiken is a really big wild card. Because of the controversy he started with the Houston Astros, Aiken's agent, Casey Close, has been ambivalent to release any information of importance. Aiken broke the news of his own injury, remember. Every team in baseball will receive his medial information, but no one really knows what that information will be. According to Kiley McDaniel, this could be really bad news:
There is persistent, consistent and detailed buzz coming from many sources that there is more to Aiken’s injury than just a clean surgery like Erick Fedde, Jeff Hoffman or Lucas Giolito from recent years
I won’t repeat the specific rumors, but the worst versions of it say there are career-threatening issues at play, while others say it’s merely an increased risk of further injury going forward.
That puts Aiken's preliminary ranking around 25th overall, and that could either allow the Yankees to take him under slot at 16th, slot value at 30th, or in the second round if the medicals are poor. But if the medicals are negative, I think the Yankees should not touch Aiken with a ten-foot pole.
Even though Brady Aiken is a franchise-altering player if he meets potential, the Yankees have been dreadful at developing high school pitchers, and they have shown in recent years that they would rather choose a higher-floor college player. But this depends on the medical reports. If the surgery went as planned, he may not even fall to 16th overall. But if the surgery went normally and he is on the board, then the Yankees should absolutely take him.
With Duke's Michael Matuella, it's not an easy decision either. Before the college season, Chris Crawford had a scouting report, and it was very positive:
Matuella [is] the early "favorite" to become the first pick of the draft. His fastball sits 93-96 mph and will touch the high 90s, and curveball and change both flash plus — though the latter needs to show more consistency. The command needs work — and we need to see him show the top of the rotation stuff on a more consistent basis — but everything is here for Matuella to be a number one starter.
Well, that didn't happen at all. Matuella's velocity this season fell to 91-94, and then he tore his UCL. According to McDaniel the back issues are behind him and surgery went as planned, so it isn't like with Aiken where his career is on the line. The stuff is absolutely there--this is a pitcher that is potentially a couple years away (after rehab) from the big league level, and he could slot into the top of the Yankee rotation. Unfortunately, the real concern is that Matuella has never been healthy, and no one knows how he would hold up over one hundred or more innings.
I think this would be a pretty bold pick at 16th, but if he is available at 30th overall, the Yankees would be foolish not to pick him. The Nationals have (so far) reaped the benefits of drafting Lucas Giolito after Tommy John surgery, and Michael Matuella is that type of dynamic player, one that does not require the extensive development process that the Yankees have struggled with in regards to younger pitchers.
These are tough decisions that the Yankees front office has to make. The organization has missed time and time again on their first pick, and they now have a pick that is right in the middle of the first round. This is an incredibly weak draft, but a hit on someone like Aiken or Matuella would result in getting a superstar for pennies. I'm glad I'm not making this decision, because this is a crucial draft for Brian Cashman and his team. If the team wants to have sustainable success, they need a successful draft. Whether that draft will include Brady Aiken or Michael Matuella is currently a mystery.