There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the Baltimore Orioles right now. Even if you’ve fully embraced the rebuild, you may be disappointed about the strength of the farm system. But LHP Keegan Akin is a pitcher that is legitimately worth getting excited about. He is the most advanced pitcher in the system and could be the rare starting pitcher that the Orioles successfully draft and develop.
The Orioles used a second round draft pick on Akin and selected him #54 overall in 2016 out of Western Michigan University. That came on the heels of him setting the school’s all-time single season strikeout record with 133 in 109 innings. He entered the season as #9 on MLB.com’s prospect rankings. He now ranks #12 on that list, but three players ahead of him were acquired in the mid season firesale and another three were drafted in June.
Akin’s career started shortly after he was drafted in 2016. He pitched 26 innings for Aberdeen and registered an impressive 1.04 ERA. A nice start to his professional career. But he had a rocky 2017 with Frederick when his ERA came in at 4.14. In 100 innings he struck out 111 batters and allowed only eight hits per nine innings. But he walked batters at an alarming rate of 4.1 per nine innings.
The hardware that Akin collected as a result of his 2018 campaign indicates how nicely he bounced back. He won the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award (along with Zac Lowther) as well as Eastern League Pitcher of the Year (the first Oriole to do so since Brad Bergesen in 2008). He led the Eastern League in wins, strikeouts, batting average against, and strikeouts per nine innings. That is serious stuff. His final stats were a 3.27 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 142 strikeouts in 137.2 innings. He still struggled with walks (3.8/9 innings) and that will need to be corrected.
Akin did better against left-handed batters as we would expect. He held them to a batting average of .211 this season. He did a decent job of controlling the home run, allowing exactly one homer per nine innings pitched. There were only two starts in which he allowed more than one homer. It did appear that he tired a bit down the stretch. His highest two ERA’s per month were July and August (3.79 and 4.64).
The southpaw’s fastball sits between 91-94 MPH and MLB.com’s Prospect Watch reports that it can reach 96 MPH. His fluid and repeatable delivery allows him to command his fastball and work to both sides of the plate effectively. Akin told Brittany Ghiroli that his success this year all came down to fastball command: “If you can establish that (fastball) and be aggressive and keep hitters on their heels, you can have some success.”
Akin’s offspeed offerings consist of a mid-80s MPH slider that scouts grade as above average. His third pitch is a changeup that he sometimes has difficulty getting a feeling for. Still, he throws all three of his pitches for strikes and club officials “rave about how he attacks the inner half against right-handed hitters.”
Prior to the 2018 campaign, Jim Callis told Steve Melewski that Akin “has a really good arm.” However, Keith Law wasn’t as impressed when asked about Akin in August. A participant in his chat asked if a #3 starter is a reasonable ceiling projection for him. Law replied “I’d take the under on that. I’ve never seen him throw with the velocity he supposedly can have.” Although to be fair, it seems like Law never praises Orioles prospects.
Now that Akin’s season is over, he will report to fall instructional league in Sarasota and work on getting strengthened for next season. His inning total of 137 was 21 more than last season. He appears ready to pitch roughly 160 innings in 2019.
The Orioles appear to have a pretty nice prospect on their hands. His velocity is good enough, he’s a lefty, and he’s demonstrated the ability to miss bats. While the scouting reports say that he can throw all three of his pitches for strikes, his walk rate alarms me. He may get away with free passes in the Eastern League where his raw talent will bail him out, but that won’t work against major league hitters.
MLB.com’s Prospect Watch says that Akin’s ETA in Baltimore is 2019. That sounds right, though some thought there was a chance we’d see him get a September call up. While the Orioles aren’t overflowing with rotation candidates next year, it is unlikely that Akin begins the season with the Orioles. There’s no reason to rush him and it would be a good idea to let him start the season at Norfolk. But we can expect to seem him at Camden Yards at some point next summer.