From now until the last bricks of their rebuild are laid, every promotion of a well-regarded Orioles prospect will be a significant moment for the team and its fans. Every one of those major league debuts will be the culmination of years of work by both the player and those around him to make it happen, and there were plenty of stories to tell along the way.
Keegan Akin’s major league call-up on Saturday is no different.
Here are the best of them in The Baltimore Sun over the years, from the time he entered the organization as a second-round pick in 2016 to the moment he joined the club Saturday in Washington.
When the Orioles went mining for college pitching talent in the Midwest in the 2016 draft, they landed on two pitchers in Cody Sedlock and Akin who were expected to be quick fixes to their homegrown rotation issues.
“He can really pitch with his fastball,” said then-scouting director Gary Rajsich. “The secondary stuff is developing, and we think it’ll get better. We like the ceiling. We think he’s a future middle-of-the-rotation starter, and the kid really knows how to compete. He’s a winner.”
Sedlock, Akin, and Austin Hays were all started at High-A Frederick to jump-start their development in their first full season, and around draft time that summer, Akin had just skipped a start to work on a mechanical issue. He’d struggled to that point, but had a 2.97 ERA the rest of the way after that fix.
“Obviously, I didn’t want it to take this long to figure it out, but you’ve got to go through the lows to get to the highs at some point,” he said as his season turned around.
Akin didn’t need any adjustment period at Double-A Bowie in a season that earned him a share of the organization’s Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award. He had a 3.27 ERA and carved up the league with his disappearing fastball, which played harder than it was.
“A well-located fastball is probably the hardest pitch in baseball to hit, to be honest with you,” Akin said. “You’ve just got to trust it and make them hit your pitches — don’t try to be too fine and pitch around them. I’m a fastball pitcher, so I try to challenge the guys with that.”
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With Akin at Bowie and dominating, a look at his stuff and what his path to the majors might ultimately look like through the prism of the Orioles’ old front office.
A new front office and new pitching philosophy for the 2019 season meant Akin couldn’t just get by on his fastball. He spent the entire year at Triple-A Norfolk mixing in his slider and changeup more to get used to throwing them in different counts. It meant he wasn’t on the big league radar, but he knew he had to do it to get there.
“Last year throwing my off-speed stuff was almost nonexistent, to be honest with you,” Akin said. “I threw it, but I didn’t live or die by it. I’d just live or die by the fastball, and if it gets hit, it gets hit. I would say I’m more comfortable throwing those off-speed pitches in counts that I normally wouldn’t, but it’s definitely not where it needs to be.”
Akin spent most of his minor league offseasons working out in a pole barn he and his father built to give him somewhere by his house to train in the cold Michigan winters. Once he was added to the 40-man roster in the fall, he knew it was time to move beyond that.
“It’s nice, but to me, you can only make so many adjustments [yourself],” Akin said. “If you’ve got somebody who knows what they’re looking for or can help you out with that type of stuff, it makes life easier.”