For a young pitcher who has success early, learning to pitch rather than just throw can present some challenges. In the case of Orioles prospect Keegan Akin, this challenge has been accepted at Triple-A this year.
“I have always been pretty fastball heavy,” Akin said. “The challenge this year has been to throw the off speed pitches and use those in spots you wouldn’t use them, so I get more comfortable throwing it and it obviously becomes a better pitch. That was the challenge in Spring Training and starting the year off. I struggled with it, I still do, but so far it has worked out. It has gotten me some pretty cheap outs.”
Akin, the number seven prospect on Tim Smith’s 2019 Prospects1500 Orioles Top 50 prospects, has also caught the eye of his manager with his new outlook. Norfolk manger Gary Kendall, who managed Akin last season in Double-A as well, said that he is impressed that Akin pitches deep into the games. Along with this endurance, Kendall also said that he pitches fearlessly. Though he admits that Akin has a bad start on occasion, he doesn’t let that linger and doesn’t shy away from contact. From what Kendall has seen, Akin is pitching for the next level, rather than for today.
“Last year, he was primarily a fastball pitcher,” Norfolk manager Gary Kendall said. “He has a good fastball and he knows how to move it around. He knows when to elevate it. He can move it in and out. He can pitch inside. It has some nice finish to it in the strike zone. This year, he is utilizing his changeup and breaking ball more. He is pitching to develop, not just pitching to win a game. Last year, I think he was more into hitters not catching up to his fastball or not needing to throw this at this point, so I am just going to throw my fastball. There were times he had a lot of success doing that. I think to pitch to develop, to be a major league pitcher, you need your secondary pitches.”
In learning to progress as a pitcher, Akin has created some advantages for himself as well. The lefty is from rural Michigan, where he still spends each offseason. With long travel time and inconvenience, Akin got crafty and started thinking, ‘why not bring the facility to me?’
“I grew up throwing in that scenery,” Akin said. “The guy I went to for pitching lessons and things like that, it was out in a barn. It’s a heated barn with some pitching mounds in it. I got the idea from him. I took advantage of that, and built it in my back yard so I didn’t have to go anywhere. There is nothing really close to me at home, so it’s not hard to walk across the yard in the winter, the off season, and go get my work in.”
As for the home training facility itself, Akin said it is a heated barn as well with mounds. He said that he has a horse stall mat suspended from the ceiling, with a small strike zone on it that he throws into. Once he throws a pitch, it hits that mat, falls into a little trough and collects the balls.
Also thinking about pitching and improving what he has to work with, Akin tinkered with the idea of working a splitter into his arsenal as well, but decided better of it. He said that when he got to Spring Training this season and had goals meetings, he decided to perfect what he is already working with, rather than trying to throw something else into the mix as well. Even with the decision, he is always thinking of ways to have more success on the mound. Along with working on his command and his pitch mix, Akin is also able to constantly perfect his delivery, which he tries to keep as simple as he can. Though he admits that things can still go wrong in an easy delivery, it is generally pretty easy for him to fix it. Along with his mechanics, Akin also has some natural deception and hides the ball well prior to the release. With this, he said that it just comes with what he always does and he has never made that a focus.
Keegan Akin enters play tied for third in the IL with 80 strikeouts – eight shy of Rochester’s Lewis Thorpe’s league-leading 88 punchouts. Akin, the #6 prospect in the #Orioles system, also ranks among qualifying IL pitchers in ERA (5th, 4.29) and average against (5th, .256).
— Tides Notes (@TidesNotes) June 25, 2019
After a strong start to the season, Akin has hit some road bumps in June. In the month, he has allowed as many hits as he did in May, in 10 less innings of work. However, he appears to be the victim of a small sample size. He allowed a season-high eight hits on June 1. He followed that up with allowing seven hits and four walks on June 6. While he did not have his best stuff those two days, it is hard to judge success on a sample size that small. Regardless, Akin is one of the most exciting pitching prospects in the Orioles organization. His walks are overall steady, and his strikeouts are up. With the work that he is doing in the offseason and each five days, Akin is not just trying to get to Baltimore, but his goal is to stay and sustain success. He will represent the Orioles organization and Norfolk Tides in the upcoming Triple-A All-Star Game.
— Norfolk Tides (@NorfolkTides) June 27, 2019
Ryan Palencer is a lifelong baseball fan who covers the Triple-A International League upper level MiLB prospects. He is located in Indianapolis, which features the AAA Indians. Ryan has covered Minor League, Major League, and All-Star games with Pirates Prospects prior to joining Prospects1500. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPalencer.