The Orioles’ recent subtractions served as a bit of a reality check for anyone feeling overly optimistic about the 2021 season. The Birds remain in the earlier stages of a multi-year rebuild, and Mike Elias refuses to consider anything but the long term success of the organization.
Despite the cruel realities of the past year, Baltimore was spoiled with multiple successful debuts. Ryan Mountcastle hit from start to finish, and the Orioles had a pair of starters contribute right away.
Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer arrived in Baltimore last season. They didn’t just show up, they came ready to play. The two will be linked together after making their debuts less than a month apart. They may be compared in the future, but the pair took very different paths to Baltimore.
The Orioles selected Akin in the second round of the 2016 draft. Akin spent three years at Western Michigan working almost exclusively as a starter. He excelled out of the gate with a 6-4 record and 3.46 ERA during his freshman campaign, but struggled as a sophomore. The Michigan native bounced back with a massive junior year that delivered a 7-4 record, 1.98 ERA and sub-1 WHIP. That step forward was clearly enough for former general manager Dan Duquette and the Orioles.
Baltimore sent Akin to Aberdeen after the 2016 draft and the lefty kept rolling. He posted a 1.04 ERA and .846 WHIP over 26 innings with the IronBirds. Akin had moderate success during a full year at Frederick and earned a promotion to Bowie to kick off 2018. He won a lot of games that year (14-7), and his 3.27 ERA warranted another jump in 2019.
Akin, like many prospects that make the jump to Triple-A, was inconsistent with the Tides. His 4.73 ERA and 1.513 WHIP called for a second season at Norfolk prior to the Covid shutdown.
Kremer, on the other hand, had a more complicated journey. He began his collegiate career at San Joaquin Delta College before transferring to the University of Las Vegas Nevada. Kremer was drafted in the 38th round out of San Joaquin, but elected to see his commitment to UNLV through. He posted worse numbers than Akin during his final collegiate year (4.92 ERA, 1.457 WHIP) but showed enough to get a phone call.
The Dodgers selected Kremer in the 14th round of the 2016 draft. He posted a miniscule 0.59 ERA and .0522 WHIP over 15.1 innings of Low-A ball. Kremer stumbled a bit during his promotion to high-A but straightened out in 2018. Baltimore took notice.
The Orioles received Kremer and a package of other players in exchange for All-Star third baseman Manny Machado. Cuban prospect Yusniel Díaz was the highlight of the deal, but Kremer beat him to Baltimore.
The Orioles slotted Kremer at Bowie where he experienced immediate success. He dominated at times with the Baysox in 2019 before limping through four starts at Norfolk to close the season. Kremer, like Akin, was destined for a repeat at Norfolk last season, but Kremer had far less experience with the Tides.
Clearly the Orioles saw enough from both pitchers at their alternate training site to warrant a promotion to the show. Akin got the first call, but the departures of Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone left plenty of innings to go around.
After a pair of relief appearances, Akin delivered 4.1 shutout innings in his first start against the Blue Jays. He followed with 5.1 scoreless innings and 8 strikeouts against the Yankees. New York got the best of him his next time out, but the lefty responded with five scoreless frames against the playoff-bound Braves.
While Akin yo-yoed, Kremer hit the ground running. He clinched his first major league win in his first start against the Yankees. Kremer held the Yanks to just one run while notching seven strikeouts. He followed with consecutive five-inning, one-run starts against New York and the Rays. His strikeout numbers remained steady with seven more against New York and an additional six against Tampa. Kremer’s season ERA ballooned to 4.82 after a seven-run shellacking from Boston in his final start of the year.
Both arms showed enough to generate excitement moving forward. Akin entered the organization as an early draft pick with high expectations from the jump. Kremer flew under the radar in a trade that exchanged one former top prospect for another. Regardless, both pitchers are on pace to take the ball every fifth day for Baltimore moving forward.
With Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall looming in the minors, Akin and Kremer have a tremendous opportunity to help bridge the gap in the rebuild. It doesn’t matter how they got here, everyone should be excited to see what the future holds.