For this recent entry about Ryan Mountcastle and his addition to the Orioles’ 40-man roster, I spent some time interviewing Triple-A Norfolk manager Gary Kendall. I talked with Kendall talking about two pitchers. We discussed left-hander Keegan Akin and right-hander Dean Kremer, who were both also recently added to the 40-man roster.
Outfielder Ryan McKenna joined that trio and now none of the four can be taken in the upcoming Rule 5 draft.
Throwing a fastball, slider and changeup, 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. He ranked tied for first in the league in average against at .252. Akin is rated as the Orioles’ No. 9 prospect by Baseball America and No. 11 by MLBPipeline.com.
“I thought he had a good year,” said Kendall. “Every time he went out, I was very confident this guy would give us a real good start. He was a real good worker between outings and really gets after it. I like that about him. He’s a very focused kid, very driven.
“I thought his breaking ball and changeup made the biggest strides versus his fastball this year. If he got in trouble, it was because of his fastball command. Then the latter part of the year, he started to buckle down and command that better. But he’s got three pitches that he repeats with good feel. He doesn’t tip them. He just knows what he is doing out there and is very composed. He had a blister situation early in the year, but he overcame that. I really liked his body of work.”
As we discussed in this recent entry with O’s director of pitching Chris Holt, Akin’s walk rate went up in 2019, in part because he was working on developing his secondary pitches. He was asked to throw them in counts where in the past that might not have been comfortable for him.
So a walk rate that was 3.79 per nine innings in 2018 at Double-A Bowie was 4.75 at Norfolk.
“There were not many times in his past at Double-A or below that he threw 3-2 changeups or 3-2 breaking balls. He would throw a fastball and get it over.” said Kendall. “But now he’s developing as a pitcher and he’s not as predictable. He is utilizing what he has with his three pitches. I think he is getting a lot better, but that did increase his walks.”
The skipper saw Akin pitch often at 92-93 mph, sometimes touching the mid-90s. Kendall said Akin has plenty of fastball to succeed.
“His fastballs are usually around that velocity but his fastball has good riding action,” he said. “It has some late finish in the strike zone. It can be better than others with similar velocity. His arm is so easy and the ball explodes at the plate and can look quicker than 92, 93 (mph).”
Throwing a fastball, curve, slider and changeup, 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 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.
“This guy knows what he’s doing,” Kendall said of Kremer. “He’s very confident with a very good delivery with great arm action. He’s a strike-thrower that is around the plate all the time. I think he can pitch deep into games. He has the capability to have four good pitches. He’s in tremendous shape and is a very good worker.
“He would pitch low 90s often. I saw him with a little better velocity last year at Bowie, but I really like the way the ball comes out of his hand. Such a good delivery. The curve is tight, a nice easy curveball with good tight spin. The slider and change to go with it. I really like what I see out of him.”