Barn may lead to big things

Akin’s win­ter work­out site helps him reach O’s camp

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jon Me­oli

SARA­SOTA, Fla. — In all the win­ters of Ori­oles pitch­ing prospect Kee­gan Akin’s blos­som­ing ca­reer, he has trained in a way that’s likely unique to the Michi­gan en­vi­rons he calls home: a pole barn in his yard.

With­out much ac­cess to year-round base­ball fa­cil­i­ties in his home­town of Sumner, Michi­gan, lo­cated about a two-hour drive north­west of Detroit, Akin built a fa­cil­ity re­plete with a mound, a painted tarp to serve as a strike zone and even­tu­ally lights and heat so that his prepa­ra­tions wouldn’t be af­fected by the bru­tal north­ern win­ters.

But af­ter his first trip to big-league camp was fi­nal­ized when the Ori­oles added him to the 40-man ros­ter in the fall, Akin’s prepa­ra­tions grad­u­ated as well. The start­ing pitch­ing prospect — who, by virtue of a full sea­son at Triple-A Nor­folk in 2019, finds him­self closer to the ma­jors than any of his peers — moved on from the barn and worked at a more mod­ern fa­cil­ity he be­lieves has him primed to com­pete for a ro­ta­tion spot on open­ing day.

“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.”

It helped too that the Elite Base­ball and Soft­ball fa­cil­ity in Wy­oming, Michi­gan, near Grand Rapids, where he spent this win­ter, had all of the tech­nol­ogy that Akin got fa­mil­iar with af­ter the Ori­oles in­tro­duced it last year. The fa­cil­ity had Edgertroni­c high-speed cam­eras — which cap­ture more than 1,000 frames per sec­ond — and coaches who could help re­fine the 24-year-old ahead of the big­gest camp of his life.

Akin said it was an ad­just­ment to leave the con­fines of his spar­tan barn, and he still used it on week­ends when he’d be back home hunt­ing and needed to get some work in. And once you get used to all of the tech­nol­ogy and in­for­ma­tion avail­able from ev­ery pitch, it’s hard not to have it. Out­fit­ting the barn with that equip­ment would be “not cheap by any means,” he said.

The win­ter for Akin was one in which he had plenty to work on. He shared the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Jim Palmer Mi­nor League Pitcher of the Year Award in 2018 with a strong sea­son at Dou­ble-A Bowie, and con­sid­er­ing the hit­ting en­vi­ron­ment his 2019 record at Nor­folk wasn’t bad: He struck out a ca­reer-high 10.5 bat­ters per nine in­nings but also walked a ca­reer-high 4.89 hit­ters per nine, with a 4.73 ERAand a 1.51 WHIP.

De­spite all that, he was ranked as the ninth-best prospect in the or­ga­ni­za­tion, ac­cord­ing to Base­ball Amer­ica and projects to be mak­ing his ma­jor-league de­but at some point this sea­son.

A high walk rate might be what pre­vents him from break­ing camp with the Ori­oles, though there’s not a lot of es­tab­lished ma­jor-league start­ing depth in camp as work­outs opened Wednesday. Akin’s ini­tial bullpen ses­sion, un­der the watch­ful eye of one of those Edgertroni­c cam­eras, the team’s pitch­ing coaches and man­ager Bran­don Hyde didn’t re­veal any is­sues with his con­trol.

“It was what I’ve heard about — that he’s a strike thrower that has got mul­ti­ple pitches [and is] not afraid,” Hyde said. “It’s such a small look — 15 pitches in a bullpen with no pres­sure. But we’re ex­cited about Kee­gan and think he can be a qual­ity starter in the big leagues.”

Akin, who wasn’t in­vited to camp last spring, spent the first day of work­outs tak­ing in his sur­round­ings. He’d al­ready been in Sara­sota for a few weeks to get ad­justed to throw­ing out­side again and rel­ished hav­ing a locker be­tween vet­eran starter Alex Cobb and All-Star John Means. Such a place­ment, sur­rounded by two pitch­ers who can show him their daily rou­tine first­hand, was some­thing he was just as ex­cited about as the pitch­ing part.

“I don’t think I could be po­si­tioned any bet­ter,” Akin said. “I’m just going to be a sponge and ab­sorb it and learn ev­ery­thing and go from there.”

Get­ting to spend his days around Cobb and Means af­ter camp breaks in late March, of course, is the ul­ti­mate goal.

“I think ev­ery­body should come with that mind­set, but [I’m] just going to play it by ear and com­pete when I can and go from there,” Akin said.

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