For several Orioles prospects, it has been a big week filled with both anticipation and maybe a few nerves. Yesterday was the deadline for clubs to add players to their 40-man rosters to protect them from the Rule 5 draft.
Lefty Keegan Akin admitted some of that was going on for him.
“It’s in the back of your head,” he said. “Honestly, I didn’t know the date until my uncle texted me a screen shot off his phone that showed the Nov. 20 deadline for Rule 5. Up until that point I didn’t know the date. I just knew it had to be before Dec. 1.”
Akin went 6-7 with a 4.73 ERA in 25 games for Norfolk. Over 112 1/3 innings, he allowed 109 hits with 61 walks and an International League-leading 131 strikeouts.
“It’s an honor,” he said. “I think it shows the hard work I’ve put in so far and is one step closer to the ultimate goal of becoming a big leaguer.”
Akin had a year that was heavy in pitch development. The Orioles asked him to throw his fastball much less and his slider and changeup more in 2019. Even at times when that might not have been the best pitch to get an out.
“It was definitely a challenge,” he said. “It was tough to do it at that level. There are some guys I played against this year that had eight or nine years of big league time already. It was new for me to try and throw a 2-0 breaking ball or a 2-0 changeup. Before it was ride the fastball out, that was my best pitch and I would challenge you. In spring, we went through everything analytically. Nobody in the big leagues that is a starter throws 78 percent fastballs and that is what I was two years ago. Something had to change.
“The goal was to throw off-speed pitches in counts where I didn’t feel comfortable. It would help develop those pitches but also help me become comfortable with them. It would help my repertoire of pitching, throwing all three pitches in any count rather than being predictable like I used to be. It was all to make me a better big league pitcher, not a Triple-A pitcher. “
Akin said he feels ready for a big league shot. What does he need to still work on?
“I don’t know. I would guess I need to lower the walk rate,” he said. “That kind of killed me last year and even the year before that. Eliminate free passes. That hurts you. My mindset is go into spring with an open mindset and see what happens.”
Kremer went 9-6 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.30 WHIP between three teams in 2019. He threw 9 1/3 scoreless innings for Single-A Frederick, pitched to a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts for Double-A Bowie and an 8.84 ERA in four late-season starts for Norfolk. He went 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.
Kremer spoke about his offseason plans and what he might need to show the Orioles next spring.
“In the fall league, I tried to throw sliders and changeups in counts that I normally wouldn’t,” he said. “Tried to get a comfortable feel. This offseason, just continue to do what I did in the fall league and just get ready, body-wise and mentally, to try and compete in spring training.
“I would say that I need to show a consistency of all four pitches and be able to get guys out efficiently, than having guys hang around in 2-2 or 3-2 counts a lot. Always having a plan going after guys and portraying confidence. That is probably the biggest things with me.”
Mountcastle was both the International League Most Valuable Player for Triple-A Norfolk and the Orioles’ Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year. He hit .312/.344/.527 with an .871 OPS in his first season at Norfolk. He added 35 doubles, one triple, 25 homers, 81 runs and 83 RBIs.
“Being this close, getting added to the roster is obviously a big deal,” he said. “It makes me want to work a little bit harder to get up there and show the team I can perform. When I got the call, I was pretty pumped. It’s a big moment for all of us.”
Mountcastle said he felt playing at the highest level of the minors challenged him and help him get better.
“Facing tougher competition in Triple-A, a lot of big league guys, that helped with my game,” he said. “I learned a lot like just how pitchers pitched me, stuff like that. I didn’t really change much, I just went out and played every day and turned in a pretty good season.”
McKenna, 22, hit .232/.321/.365 for Bowie with 26 doubles, six triples, nine homers, 54 RBIs, 78 runs and 25 steals. He’s a solid defender with speed who ranked tied for first in the Eastern League in runs, tied for fourth in triples and tied for eighth in steals.
But he wasn’t sure if he would be added or not and had to wait for that call that did come.
“I knew it was my Rule 5 year. You have it in the back of your mind, but you can’t control that stuff,” he said. “I thought there was definitely a chance. I love the Orioles organization and they’ve been good to me. I was definitely excited to hear they were willing to take that chance on me and put me on the roster. It’s a happy moment when you find out.”
One of McKenna’s strengths may be that he has a few different solid aspects to his game: speed, defense, ability to play small ball and sometimes add some pop. He can play center field as well as the corners.
“For me as a player, the gifts that I’ve been given, it’s always been a part of my game to be able to do those things,” McKenna said. “I take pride in that and being able to produce in different areas. I need to be more consistent with my tools, but I know I can produce in a lot of different areas. That is a focus for me.”