Baltimore Orioles: Diving Into Keegan Akin’s Successful Stretch

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 07: Exterior view of Oriole Park at Camden Yards before a baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox on May 7, 2019 in Baltimore. Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 07: Exterior view of Oriole Park at Camden Yards before a baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox on May 7, 2019 in Baltimore. Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /
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Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Keegan Akin is in the midst of a solid stretch of pitching. Let’s break down his last start.

DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez are fantastic pitching prospects for the Baltimore Orioles. Dean Kremer, Michael Baumann, Blaine Knight, and Drew Rom are also putting in dominant starts to the 2019 season, but none of these names are going to be pitching at Camden Yards this season.

However, Norfolk Tides LHP Keegan Akin might. Currently ranked as the sixth-best prospect in the Orioles system, the 2016 second-round pick of the O’s out of Western Michigan is pitching very well for the Tides through eight starts.

Growing up about 15 minutes away from Harbor Park, home of the Tides, I spent most of my summer taking in games of the former New York Mets affiliate. Then I moved more than three hours away to go to college and the Tides became an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. It was a joyous, yet sad moment, personally. I leave town and the Orioles decide to come to town. But thanks to MiLB tv, I haven’t missed a Tides game in nearly two years, with this season proving to be the most exciting season in many years.

I paid much closer attention to last Thursday’s game against the Toledo Mud Hens (Detroit Tigers affiliate) with Keegan Akin on the mound. This was the second time Akin squared off against Toledo, with the first matchup occurring in Norfolk. Akin struck out 10, walked none, and gave up just two earned runs across six innings.

His second start against the Mud Hens was even better. Toledo finds themselves near the bottom of the International League in most offensive categories, however, they do feature four of the Tigers’ Top 30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline (OF Daz Cameron, SS Willie Castro, C Jake Rogers, and 1B Dustin Peterson).

Akin’s final line was an impressive read- 6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K. His nine strikeouts were the second most recorded in a single game, behind his 10 strikeouts in his first outing against Toledo. Combine this start with his previous start, six days earlier, and Akin’s numbers across his last two outings are quite the sight- 12.2 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 15 K.

The Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect is performing well in the upper minors.

Akin faced 21 Toledo hitters last week, throwing a first-pitch strike to just 11 of them. However, he was able to produce nine strikeouts, six of them swinging strikeouts, including a few via his dancing changeup and a handful on powerful fastballs up at the letters.

Five outs were recorded via a groundball out, compared to six flyball outs which were largely nothing more than high, shallow flyballs to centerfield, easy gets for Cedric Mullins.

Akin is largely a flyball pitcher, so avoiding barrels and limiting hard contact is crucial to Akin having success, two things he did very well in his last outing. Without minor league Statcast data available to the public, we have to rely on MiLB TV feeds (typically of very poor quality) and the eye test, but it’s safe to say Akin allowed only one clean, hard-hit ball, a line-drive single into center field off a fastball left over the heart of the plate, late in his final inning of work.

The fastball, slider, and changeup all worked well for Akin as he did a great job of keeping hitters off balance and unable to square up many pitches. His 14% swinging strike rate was far from the highest number he has produced this season (produced a 28% whiff rate in last outing against Toledo), but despite falling behind to a large handful of hitters and really struggling with his command in the third inning, Akin was effective.

Walks have been an issue for Akin, but he has seen improvement from year to year in this aspect of his game. In High-A ball, he walked 4.14 hitters per game. That number dropped to 3.79 last season in Double-A. He’s lowered it even more this season, currently allowing 3.60 free passes per game.

His struggles in this particular start came when trying to work on the outer half of the plate. He missed high and away a number of times, missing Jesus Sucre‘s glove which was set up low and away each time. As I previously mentioned, it was the third inning that gave Akin fits. Here’s what happened-

  • First pitch groundball out to first base.
  • Four pitch walk
  • Single- 2-0 slider was supposed to hit the outer half of the plate, but was left over the plate
  • Single- third-straight hitter he threw a first-pitch ball to
  • Double play- fell behind 2-1, but was able to produce a double play with a fastball in on the first.

Akin was clearly frustrated in the inning, as was Sucre, who routinely let his emotions show. But Akin didn’t let his struggles take control and finished off the inning without giving up a run.

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The very first time I watched Akin was on a whim. He was with the Frederick Keys, who were in Salem, Virginia taking on the Salem Red Sox. I walked out of work in desperate need of a baseball game and many beers, so I drove an hour down I-81 to Salem. Keegan Akin was pitching, Ryan Mountcastle mashed a home run, and I was hooked. I vividly remember Akin pounding the bottom of the strike zone with mainly fastballs, absolutely owning the bottom of the zone. That strategy worked in the lower minors.

Now just one step away from the major leagues, Akin is showing off his ability to use all of his pitches in different scenarios, limiting walks, producing swings and misses, and has allowed just two home runs in 40 innings (compared to 16 in 137 innings last season), very impressive for a flyball pitcher pitching with juiced baseballs.

Toledo stacked a lineup of eight right-handed hitters against Akin, but it didn’t work and hasn’t worked for any team going up against the left-handed prospect. Righties are hitting .212 off Akin, compared to .234 for lefties.

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There’s no rush to bring him up and I hope the Orioles don’t until much later in the season, but the more I watch Akin as he progresses through the organization, the more confident I am in believing he will have a successful career in the back end of a major league starting rotation. He still has work to do, but it’s a lot of fun watching him develop.