After a big 2018 in Double-A, Keegan Akin took the next step this season. At 24 years old, Akin, a left-handed pitcher, spent the season in Triple-A in Norfolk, and responded with a season that should have Orioles fans excited at an MLB debut that should be coming up sooner rather than later.
Akin made 25 appearances, all but one of them starts, with the Tides, going 6-7 with a 4.73 ERA. He struck out an International League-best 131 in 112.1 innings and was named a league All-Star, but also walked 61 and compiled a 1.513 WHIP — his highest as an Oriole prospect.
Akin landed in the organization out of Western Michigan University, from which he was drafted in the second round in 2016. Akin’s first assignment for the rest of the ’16 season was in Aberdeen, where he went 0-1 with a 1.04 ERA in nine starts. In 2017 he got promoted to high-A Frederick, and went 7-8 with a 4.14 ERA and 111 strikeouts in an even 100 innings.
In 2018 he got moved up to Bowie and had his best professional showing yet, going 14-7 with a 3.27 ERA. He barely topped a strikeout per inning with 142 in 137.2 frames, but he walked only 58 and had a respectable WHIP of 1.249.
This season, Akin kept up his trend of a promotion a season by making it to Triple-A, where he recorded strikeouts at a far more consistent clip, but also saw his walks climb by three in nearly 25 fewer innings.
Health-wise, it was smooth sailing this season for Akin, who is the team’s 11th-ranked prospect for the second year in a row, and who has reached as high as eighth in 2016 and ’17. His 24 starts were tied for the third most in the International League, and he also ranked sixth in ERA despite the 4.73 mark and, as mentioned, first in punchouts.
Those strikeouts were the result of a repertoire that has been the reason Akin has been so highly rated for all these seasons. He has good zip on his fastball, and according to MLB Pipeline, he’s got a good three-pitch arsenal going:
Akin’s repeatable delivery and clean arm action allow him to paint both sides of the plate with a fastball that sits at 91-94 mph and touches 95. An above-average slider in the low 80s is Akin’s best secondary pitch, and he also demonstrates feel for a changeup that’s at least average. He throws each of his three pitches for strikes and is comfortable pitching inside against right-handed hitters with his fastball.
The strikeouts are the most glowing stat from this season, but his ERA is also promising considering that runs were up across the board in the International League this season. He also got better in a pair of overlooked stats that could loom large considering the Camden Yards bandbox that awaits him. His ground ball-to-fly ball ratio improved, from 0.65 last year to 0.73 this time, and his fly ball percentage went down from 47.9 percent to 45. Keeping the ball out of the air is good for any pitcher, but at Oriole Park, it’s a requirement.
And speaking of Oriole Park, it’s a place Akin should get a chance to call home soon — if not right away. He’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December, and given the success he had at Triple-A, has likely shown the front office what he needed to to get the biggest promotion yet. He’s getting the job done at the last minor league stop, and the O’s don’t have much time to let him sit, wait and develop further.
Surely, the Orioles will look for him to continue boosting his ground ball percentages as he makes the jump to the majors, as well as reverse his concerning control numbers. Walks were the only red flag for Akin this season, and if he doesn’t get them under control, they’ll undermine his major league debut, and perhaps do so right from the get-go.