Both pitchers made it to Triple-A last season. Both were added to the 40-man roster this week. As the Orioles begin to find out which young pitchers on the farm can help them moving forward, left-hander Keegan Akin and right-hander Dean Kremer may be among the first to get shots.
Being added to the 40-man means both pitchers will be in spring training next season, arriving with pitchers and catchers, who report no later than Feb. 11 with the spring opener 11 days later.
Under general manager Mike Elias last season, we didn’t see pitchers skipping minor league levels and we did see a tendency to want pitchers to see all minor league levels before they get a shot with the Orioles. That may not hold true for every pitcher moving forward, but Akin and Kremer reached Triple-A in 2019 and the move to the majors is next up.
Akin, who turns 25 on April 1, was the Orioles’ second-round pick in 2016 out of Western Michigan University. In 2018 Akin went 14-7 with a 3.27 ERA at Double-A Bowie. He was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year and was the O’s co-Minor League Pitcher of the Year, sharing the Jim Palmer Award with Zac Lowther. It was a bit of a surprise when he was not an O’s spring training non-roster invitee last February.
But he’ll be at Ed Smith Stadium this February after he went 6-7 with a 4.73 ERA in 25 starts at Norfolk. Over 112 1/3 innings, Akin allowed 109 hits with 61 walks and an International League-leading 131 strikeouts with a WHIP of 1.51. 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.
In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Akin said he threw his fastball 78 percent of the time in 2018. He clearly needed more work on his slider and changeup and threw them in fastball counts last season for pitch development. That was important and necessary, but still it can’t be easy to throw a changeup when you’ve seldom done so in certain counts previously.
“You have to trust the process and the people that are helping us, like (director of pitching) Chris Holt and the coaching staff,” Akin said. “Just trust the process and know it’s for the better and for my development. It’s to make me a better big league pitcher, not a Triple-A pitcher.”
Akin was a believer in his 2019 development plan and was not concerned that he didn’t get his chance at the majors last year. His time will come.
“I think what they did (with me) was perfect,” he said. “I would put two or three starts together and then have two or three (just) OK starts. The consistency wasn’t there. My walk rate wasn’t the best, too many free passes. I think it was good for me to stay where I was and learn a lot and become a better pitcher and learn some things about myself.”
Kremer, who turns 24 in January, went 9-6 with a 3.72 ERA, a .258 average against and a 1.30 WHIP last season. He was acquired in the Manny Machado trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 18, 2018. He led all of Minor League Baseball in strikeouts in 2018. Last season, he fanned 122 in 113 2/3 innings. He threw 9 2/3 scoreless innings for Single-A Frederick, went 9-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts for Double-A Bowie and pitched to an 8.84 ERA in four late-season starts for Norfolk.
After the minor league season ended, Kremer went to the Arizona Fall League. He threw well, going 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA with four walks and 23 strikeouts over 19 innings.
“I learned, in my short stint in Triple-A, I have to be confident and I have to be sharp every time I go out there, no matter what I’m throwing or how I’m throwing. That will probably be the biggest thing,” Kremer said.
Noted as a cerebral pitcher, Kremer was ahead of the curve a bit, so to speak, when the Orioles hired Holt last year and he brought more pitching analytics and technology to the minor league hurlers.
“I mean, I’m coming from an organization where we had those things and now I had access to them again,” he said. “I kind of understand what I’m doing in the analytic department. So, having feedback and guys I can bounce stuff off of is huge. Just trying to make every pitch as good as possible.”
Akin and Kremer are part of a group of young pitchers who support and help each other on the farm, while at the same time competing for major league spots.
“It’s great. It’s healthy competition,” Kremer said. “We’re all pretty good friends and talk to each other a lot. Looking at what other people do well and being able to bounce stuff off them and see what I can incorporate in my game to be like them, or for them to be like me. It’s healthy competition and it’s good. If you are a standout, you’re all alone trying to get better. With competition, you have guys to push you and learn from.”