O’s Keegan Akin on Michigan winter workouts, 2019 outlook

Give Orioles lefty pitching prospect Keegan Akin credit for being smart enough to know that while he had a strong 2018 season, hitters won’t care about that when they face him in 2019.

And Akin did have one impressive 2018 season. For Double-A Bowie, he went 14-7 with an ERA of 3.27 in 25 starts. Over 137 2/3 innings, he allowed 114 hits with 58 walks, 142 strikeouts and a .225 batting average against.

Akin was named co-Minor League Pitcher of the Year by the Orioles, winning the Jim Palmer Award along with Zac Lowther, and led O’s minor league pitchers in wins, was second to Lowther in strikeouts and fifth in ERA. He was also named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year and was a mid-season and postseason All-Star.

He was close to achieving a pitching Triple Crown, leading his league in wins, strikeouts and ERA. He did lead the Eastern League in wins and strikeouts, but finished third in ERA when he allowed 10 runs in his last two games and his ERA jumped up from 2.77.

So when Akin, the club’s second-round pick (No. 54 overall) in 2016 out of Western Michigan University, looks back on last year, there is a lot to like.

“It helps, but that was last year,” he said. “You have to work for it again. It definitely helps to build a base and gives me a good idea of what I’ve got to do to come into this season and perform. And wherever I end up, I end up.”

Akins has been ranked among the Orioles’ top prospects for three straight years by Baseball America. He was No. 6 after 2016, No. 11 at the end of 2017 and is No. 6 now.

And now is a good time to be a young Oriole, with the club retooling and rebuilding.

“In my situation, it’s the best thing you could ask for,” said Akin. “It’s good for the young guys. It’s weird to say that I know a good majority of the major league roster right now, only being here for four years, but it’s pretty cool. Good opportunity. You just want to get your foot in the door as a young guy.”

Akin-Throws-White-Bowie-Sidebar.jpgAkin, who turns 24 on April 1, is from Alma, Mich., and now resides in nearby Sumner in the central part of the state. So Akin’s winter training must happen inside. Along those lines, he and his father took a pole barn and turned it into a place where Akin can train and throw, even during the cold of the winter. They bought the shell and Akin and his dad then did most of the rest, including the wiring of the place.

“I’m kind of from the middle of nowhere, so I actually built a place right at my house,” Akin said. “It’s got a couple of pitching mounds in it and a weight room. Then I travel like an hour two or three times a week to go to a workout facility. I also do some yoga stuff to help my flexibility. So, having this in my backyard, there are no excuses. Just walk out the door 10 yards and I’m there. Easy. There is a tarp with a strike zone painted on it. That’s what I’ve been throwing into the last few months. It seems to work and I’ve done it since I was drafted.”

Akin keeps the area heated enough to get his work in and even has opened the place up to youngsters in his area.

“I’ve got a batting cage and I’ll do some lessons here and there,” he said. “It keeps me busy, around the game of baseball and giving back to the community in my area. There are really not a lot of players from my area, so it means a lot to me.”

With a fastball that often sits 92-93 mph and touches the mid-90s, Akin also features a slider and changeup. In three seasons between short-season Single-A Aberdeen, Single-A Frederick and Bowie, he is 21-16 with an ERA of 3.38. He’s averaged 3.8 walks/nine innings and 9.6 strikeouts/nine innings with a WHIP of 1.25.

When asked if he tweaked anything with his pitches over the winter, Akin said yes - and he had a sound reason for doing so.

“A little bit. I noticed there were a lot of foul balls last year when I was ahead in the count,” he said. “I would get into six- and seven-pitch at-bats and was wondering why I couldn’t get past six innings. So I looked at that. I used to throw a splitter/forkball in high school, because I couldn’t throw a changeup. I started to play with that again. And I’ll see what I can do with that. Get something that changes plane a little more. I had way too many foul balls last year. I want to be into the seventh inning if I can, every outing.”

So are the early reviews on that pitch good?

“No. It’s a work in progress. We’ll leave it at that,” said Akin, who should get some props for both his honesty and also realizing in the first place he may want to try something new.

So soon he’ll head south and not have to workout indoors anymore. He’ll try to show the Orioles that his 2018 season in the Eastern League was very legit.

“Just come to spring training and give it what I’ve got and go compete,” he said. “Feel like I’ve done that since Day One. That is kind of my motto, be a competitor on the mound. That is what I want to be known for. I’m not your big, typical pitcher. I’ve got to grind. That is what I like about myself, I attack and come after you. If I can do that, I’ve got a good shot.”

Akin said it was an honor to appear at FanFest this year. But on a bit of down note, even after his strong season at Bowie, he was not among the non-roster invitees to spring training.

“I get it, got to work your way up there with new management,” he said, probably ready to get back to Michigan and get back to work.

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