Baltimore Orioles: Keegan Akin Ends Season As Strikeout King

BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 13: The Oriole Bird celebrates after the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Tampa Bay Rays during game one of a doubleheader at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 13, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 13: The Oriole Bird celebrates after the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Tampa Bay Rays during game one of a doubleheader at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 13, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Keegan Akin ended the season on top of the International League strikeout leaderboard.

For the Delmarva Shorebirds and Bowie Baysox, the 2019 season continues to roll along with playoff baseball in Birdland. Unfortunately, the season has come to a close for the Norfolk Tides, Frederick Keys, and Aberdeen Ironbirds, but not before a number of players completed impressive seasons down on the Baltimore Orioles farm.

Ryan Mountcastle took home International League MVP honors, DL Hall continued to amaze in High-A ball as a teenager (aside from his walks), and a collection of 2019 draft picks helped to lead Aberdeen to 42 wins on the season, a franchise high. Overall, it was a very positive season down on the farm and it isn’t over yet. The Baysox have one of the more dominant pitching staffs in minor league baseball and the 90-win Shorebirds are the top farm team in the land. There are still titles to win.

One of those individual performances I want to take a moment and highlight is LHP Keegan Akin. Akin spent all of 2019 with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides, grinding his way through a record-setting year in Triple-A for offense thanks to juiced baseballs making their way to both the International League and the already offense-heavy Pacific Coast League.

Making 24 starts (plus one relief appearance), Akin pitched to a 6-7 record and 4.73 ERA in 112 innings of work. Before you raise your eyebrows at the 4.73 ERA, it’s important to note that only seven qualified International League pitchers ended the year with an ERA under 5.00 (Akin finished with the sixth-lowest ERA). To add even more perspective, the league ERA finished at 4.90.

Akin ended his first season in Triple-A as the International League leader in strikeouts with 131 in 112 innings. New York Yankees minor leaguer Shao-Ching Chiang finished in second with 128 in 131 innings, 19 more innings than Akin.

Akin saw his K/9 rate jump from 9.28 in Double-A Bowie to 10.50 this season, which also led the International League. Atlanta Braves prospect Kyle Wright recorded the next highest K/9 IP rate with a 9.28 mark. Quite the distance between first and second place (among qualified pitchers).

Now 24, Akin was a candidate for a September call-up and, according to reports, was seriously considered. The former Western Michigan Bronco won’t be making his major league debut this year and that’s ok. More than 112 innings in his first season in Triple-A is no easy task, especially when these new baseballs turned pitcher-friendly Harbor Park into a launching pad. It used to be quite the sight to see a ball fly over the O’Connor Party Deck in right field off the Elizabeth River, but not in 2019.

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There’s also the one big, ugly stat that sticks out when looking at Akin’s line. If you caught any of Akin’s starts this season, you likely saw a lot of walks during the performance. I still remember watching Jesus Sucre almost lose his mind when Akin took a few hitters to find the strike zone at one point earlier this season. A career-high 4.89 BB/9 IP rate isn’t comforting when considering whether or not to bring a guy up, even if we are talking about him joining a 100-loss team. Calling it a year, getting some rest, and getting back to the grind in a few weeks could prove to be a much better strategy than throwing him into the fire.

Akin has been a guy on my radar since making an impromptu trip after work to a Salem Red Sox/Frederick Keys game in Salem two years ago and getting my first live look at the former second-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles. But he does come with a word of caution.

Orioles fans are desperate for pitching prospects to climb the ranks and save this major league rotation and bullpen. Akin is going to have to grind his way through each start to find success in a major league rotation. He’s a low-90’s fastball guy who can work in the 94-95 mph range with a slider and changeup. He has the mound presence of a major league starter, but he isn’t a groundball pitcher and does get hit hard often.

If he can cut down on his walks and continue to limit home runs as he did this year (0.80 HR/9 IP), he should find himself in the back-end of the starting rotation for years to come. If that doesn’t work out, maybe he finds a home in the bullpen where his fastball can tick up, the changeup can become more effective and he provides value as a long-man/spot starter.

He’s largely a finished product, but there are still improvements he can make and as many pitchers down on the farm have shown in 2019, a system is in place now to help Akin get there. As long as fans don’t put exceedingly high expectations on the lefty, 2020 should be a fun time as we get to watch him make his major league debut.

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He’s eligible for this year’s Rule 5 draft, but there’s no doubt that Keegan Akin finds himself on the Orioles 40-man roster immediately after the conclusion of the regular season.