Baltimore Orioles: Keegan Akin To Battle For Rotation Spot
Will we see LHP Keegan Akin break camp with the Baltimore Orioles major league squad? It’s now being reported that he will be given that opportunity.
Welcome to the second full day of the Winter Meetings! Monday was largely quiet for the Baltimore Orioles, outside of acquiring right-handed pitcher Marcos Diplan via waiver claim from Detroit and a few notable quotes from general manager Mike Elias to close out Monday’s activities.
For more reaction to what Elias had to say about his plans for the remainder of the Winter Meetings, be sure to check out our piece from earlier this morning here.
The more interesting tidbits from Elias’ interview centered around a handful of highly-touted minor league arms. With the Orioles tanking 2020 away, next year provides another prime opportunity to support the local minor clubs and catch a growing list of entertaining prospects who figure to play prominently in a brighter future in Birdland.
Surprisingly, LHP Keegan Akin will be given an opportunity to fight for a spot in the starting rotation this spring training. Despite a starting rotation consisting of John Means, Alex Cobb (if he’s healthy), and (maybe) Asher Wojciechowski, we haven’t gotten the sense that Akin, or any other pitching prospect, was going to be given an opportunity so soon.
Akin turns 25 on April 1st and is coming off his third full season in the Orioles system. His 2019 campaign was arguably his best since the Orioles used a second-round pick on the former Western Michigan Bronco in 2016.
Making 24 starts (25 total appearances) for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides, Akin went 6-7 with a 4.73 ERA (4.13 FIP), a 1.51 WHIP, and a .248 average against. On the surface, those numbers don’t look like that of pitcher Orioles fans should be excited for, but if we dig a little deeper, we see a decent season from six-foot, 220-pound lefty.
Akins’ 4.73 ERA was actually a touch lower than the league average ERA in the International League last season (4.90) and was good for the sixth-lowest ERA among qualified starting pitchers. Only seven qualified starters ended the year with an ERA under 5.00.
We also have to talk about his home run rate. Akin gave up 1.08 and 1.05 HR/9 IP in each of his first two seasons in the minor leagues, but saw that number drop to 0.80/9 IP in 2019. What makes that number even more impressive is the fact that Akin was able to significantly lower his home run rate, despite International League hitters racking up 2,440 total home runs. The IL saw just 1,555 home runs in 2018.
Harbor Park, home of the Norfolk Tides, is a notorious pitcher’s park, but the O’Connor’s Party Deck in right field, in front of the Elizabeth River and massive wind tunnel, saw a noted uptick in home run activity last season. The juiced ball was successful at even overcoming Harbor Park’s ability to keep the ball in the yard.
Akin also saw his strikeout rate jump from 24.8% to 26% (10.50/9 IP). He finished the season as the International League strikeout king, compiling 131 in 112.1 innings pitched. Second place on this list was Cleveland Indians minor leaguer Shao-Ching Chiang. He fanned three fewer than Akin (128) in nearly 20 more innings of work.
MLB Pipeline currently has Akin ranked as the 11th best prospect in the Baltimore Orioles system with three solid pitches (fastball, slider, changeup), and the ability to miss a lot of bats. However, there are a number of questions surrounding Akin’s future.
Can he limit the number of walks he issues? His walk rate has been between 10-12% in each of the last three seasons and it’s been an issue throughout his amateur and pro career. The high number of walks led to a lot of early exits from starts due to high pitch counts, something the Orioles hope to avoid in 2020 with their starting pitchers.
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Can he maintain his velocity? Minor league stadium radar guns aren’t always the most accurate, but based on those readings (when applicable) Akins’ fastball velocity can vary from start to start. Sometimes he works in the upper-80s/low-90s, while sometimes he comes out firing a few ticks higher for four/five-straight innings. If he wants to work out of the rotation, he will have to limit those walks and maintain his velocity.
He’s a high-floor prospect who is largely a finished product. Small tweaks here and there can help Akin develop into a reliable back-end of the rotation piece, but you’re not going to see any big velocity jumps or a magically reduced walk rate. If he can’t cut it as a starter, he could find some success out of the bullpen, but it’s clear that he will be given every opportunity to carve out a role as a starter.
Elsewhere around the minor leagues, we have confirmation that LHP DL Hall, the Orioles third-ranked prospect, is healthy and will pitch for the Double-A Bowie Baysox next season. Also, RHP Dean Kremer and LHP Bruce Zimmermann will begin the year in Triple-A (per this tweet from MLB.com’s Joe Trezza).
We’re less than three months from the start of Baltimore Orioles spring training. Are you getting excited yet?