This article is part of the Know Your Orioles 40-man series, which features an article about each of the 38 players currently on the Orioles roster. There will be one every weekday until we run out of players.
The tale has been well documented by now. The Orioles entered 2021 with three assumed starting pitchers and a pair of question marks. Unfortunately for Baltimore, two question marks quickly turned to four.
Many expected Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer to build on successful debuts in 2020 and provide support to an already thin rotation. Kremer broke camp with the team, but experienced his own share of setbacks. Akin plummeted from potentially the second spot in the rotation to off the 26-man roster.
It’s not uncommon for starting pitchers to struggle in spring training, but Akin pushed the limits in Sarasota. He allowed 10 runs, 15 hits, and seven walks in just nine innings of work. Akin struggled with command in four short starts, and Baltimore wisely determined that the lefty was in no condition to face the American League East.
Akin worked out at the Orioles’ alternate training site with the minor leagues delayed until May. An unfortunate “kitchen incident” led to a slice on his throwing hand and a pitching pause at the end of April. Akin made a brief appearance at Triple-A before joining a depleted Orioles bullpen.
A majority of teams would have forced Akin to demonstrate sustained command in the minors before recalling the 26-year-old, but Baltimore had no choice. He did little to impress in four relief outings, but the Orioles still “promoted” Akin to the rotation on May 30.
Akin kept the White Sox off the scoreboard through five innings on June 4, but struggled through his next four June starts. Akin’s woes continued in July until a trip to the COVID list mercifully paused his season. Akin returned at the beginning of August but resembled the same pitcher he had been for a majority of the season.
Akin’s record fell to 0-8 before the former second-round pick rattled off a pair of victories against the Angels and Blue Jays. He turned in another quality start against Toronto in September, and held the Phillies to just one run over 5.1 innings in his final outing of the year.
A moderate amount of late season success is enough to keep Akin’s name loosely attached to a rotation spot this season, but the narrative has dramatically changed from a year ago. The Birds were bullish on Akin after he posted a 4.56 ERA in eight 2020 appearances. The rookie took his lumps in a few games, but also had his moments. He struck out eight Yankees over 5.1 shutout innings, and K’d nine Braves in five frames during his first career win.
Still, a look back at the numbers do not resemble a bonafide starter. Akin posted a 1.442 WHIP in 2020 before a 1.579 WHIP last season. He struggled with control in the minor leagues, and pitched to a 4.73 ERA and 1.513 WHIP at Norfolk in 2019. He posted a 131/61 K/BB ratio that season after a 142/58 mark at Bowie in 2018.
End-of-season prediction: This all comes down to command. A roster spot is not out of the question if Akin throws strikes in Sarasota. He could return to the rotation or provide another left-handed option out of the bullpen. Akin does have a minor league option remaining.
The rotation competition is wide open after Means and Jordan Lyles. I see Akin taking the last spot of the rotation to start the season before eventually being bumped to the bullpen. Akin could ride the shuttle depending on the need for fresh arms, but I predict Akin will be with the Orioles pitching in relief at the end of 2022.
Previously: Félix Bautista, Logan Gillaspie, Isaac Mattson, Cionel Pérez, Bryan Baker, Rougned Odor, Joey Krehbiel, Tyler Nevin, Kyle Bradish, Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Díaz, Kelvin Gutiérrez, Kevin Smith, Terrin Vavra, D.L. Hall, Jahmai Jones, Bruce Zimmermann, Mike Baumann, Ryan McKenna, Dean Kremer
Tomorrow: Jorge López