Akin on O's going from losing to winning and a coach talks about Holliday

The year that the Orioles drafted lefty Keegan Akin out of Western Michigan University, in 2016, they made the playoffs before their season ended in the American League Wild Card Game in Toronto.

A couple of years later, Akin was part of an O’s organization trending the wrong way, one that had seasons of 115, 108 and 110 losses. But within all that losing there were a few bright spots that Akin said told him better days could be coming.

“Just watching the younger guys when we drafted them,” he recalled Saturday during Birdland Caravan. “The first time I saw Grayson (Rodriguez) – I watched him pitch in Florida somewhere when he was 19. Just standing there and thinking, ‘This kid is 19 throwing 100 (mph) and he has five pitches. Where do you get these guys?’

“And then we started bringing more in and more. And then Adley (Rutschman) showed up and (Gunnar) Henderson showed up. Yeah, think we are doing OK.

“It is awesome. I was talking to a fan today about that. It’s crazy in that I’ve been in this org since 2016 and to see things change that fast. I know that was eight years ago, but in baseball terms we had some really bad years and turned it around pretty quickly. It is obviously rewarding and a heck of a lot more fun now to be on the other side and have that part behind us.”

And now Akin wants to put his own adversity behind him. After throwing to an ERA of 3.20 in 45 games in 2022 – with an ERA of 2.36 in the first half – he struggled at times in the second half of that year. Then came 2023 and issues with lower back discomfort which led to an ERA of 6.85 in 24 games.

But now he said he is fully healthy and already has been working out and throwing some bullpens in Florida.

He knows it’s been a while since he has consistently pitched well in the majors.

“When I look at stuff, I refer to that year,” he said of his 2022 season. “It’s kind of hard not to. I felt like I had bits and pieces of that last year, but it just was a roller coaster. Was good for a couple of days and bad for a couple of days.

“I definitely, when I revert back to watch things, I look at May, June of 2022 when I was dominant and back to my old self. That is what I am leaning toward and prepping towards when I do my homework in that department.”

And now he will try to emerge from a large number of bullpen candidates to make the Opening Day roster.

“It’s going to be difficult," said Akin. "Lot of good arms and lot of good arms coming back. It’s going to be – I look at it coming into spring like I do every year, I’m not on the team until they tell me. I have to pitch myself on the team. And I have had that mindset the last couple of years, and nothing changes this year."

Remembering that visit to Oklahoma: In the winter after the 2022 season, the Orioles sent a few hitting coaches to visit No. 1 draft pick Jackson Holliday at his Oklahoma home.

Holliday had just 20 pro games under his belt to that point in the Florida Complex League and a few with Single-A Delmarva. 

One of the coaches there then was Cody Asche, who has had a rapid rise in a three-year pro coaching career. After five years getting big league time with the Phillies and White Sox as a player, he served as a Single-A hitting coach for the Phillies in 2021. The next season he was hired by the Orioles as their upper level hitting coordinator on the farm. Before last season, he moved to the O's big league staff as offensive strategy coach.

Those coaches did some cage work with Holliday before last season, and then the kid went out and moved four levels on the Baltimore farm as he rose to become the No. 1 prospect in baseball.

“Last offseason was really just about spending time with him, honestly," Asche said of that visit, with more coaches spending time with Holliday this winter, too. "That is the strength of our org, we have coaches who care a lot about the success of our players. Try to wrap our arms around him and give him attention. Make sure they are getting reps. He has all the skills in the world. Sometimes you just have to love the kid and let him go play."

Asche learned more about Holliday during that time, including that while he may have a famous baseball name, he has done well keeping all the attention he gets in check.

“It’s almost impossible how humble he is," Asche said. "I think Jackson is such a humble kid. You put most humans in the upbringing he had with a dad that is on the Hall of Fame ballot and you grow up in big league clubhouses. It’s just like, how can you just be such a good person? I think that is what attracts everybody to him. His teammates love him, he loves his teammates and he is fun to admire."

Soon in this space, more with Asche on Holliday.

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