‘Cherry on top:' Akin highest drafted Bronco since 1970

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Western Michigan's Keegan Akin

Predicting the Major League Baseball draft isn’t a hobby for many.

That’s because it’s next to impossible.

But Keegan Akin, the left-hander from Western Michigan University, had an inkling he’d be selected by the Baltimore Orioles.

“Before the end of the season, our coach said the Orioles were one of the teams that were at almost every start,” Akin said over the phone Friday. “You can’t really predict it, but in this case, if I had to guess one team from all the people that have been at the games and every game, I would probably guess them.”

Akin was drafted late Thursday night, on the opening day of the draft.

The Orioles used their second-round pick, 54th overall, to grab him — the second of three college pitchers Baltimore would take on Day 1.

On Friday, Akin still was waiting to hear from the Orioles for the plans moving forward, but later this month, he will take a physical, sign his contract — likely for more than $1 million — and head off to Maryland to play for the Aberdeen IronBirds of the New York-Penn League.

Know what an IronBird is?

“I do not,” Akin said, laughing.

He better get on that.

Akin, 21, who was projected to go anywhere from the first round to the third, fell right in the middle, and made some Broncos history.

He’s the highest-picked draft pick from Western since the Cleveland Indians took Harry Shaughnessy with the 50th overall pick in 1970. He’s the third Broncos player to be taken in the second round.

“This is a cherry on top of a great season,” WMU coach Billy Gernon said. “He is a special talent and even a better person.

“I will not be surprised to see him continue to develop and have a length professional career.”

Akin was the horse behind the Broncos’ surprising run to the NCAA Tournament this season, winning two games in the Mid-American Conference tournament, including the championship game, to earn tournament MVP honors. For the season, he was 7-4 with a 1.82 ERA, a WMU-record 133 strikeouts, a .192 opponents batting average and 30 walks in 109 innings. Akin allowed one home run all season.

A 6-foot-1, 195-pounder from Midland, Michigan, Akin watched the draft Thursday with close friends and family at his Dad’s place in Ithaca. He planned to hang with more friends Friday, soaking in what’s a dream for so many kids growing up.

“It’ll probably hit me when I get on the plane and fly out,” Akin said. “It’ll be like, ‘Wow.’”

Akin arrived at Western with a good fastball, but not much else — not uncommon for star high-school pitchers, who often don’t need to rely on any other pitchers to get by.

His biggest development since arriving in Kalamazoo was his off-speed stuff, including a breaking ball and a change-up. His command also has improved dramatically, from 49 walks in 88.1 innings as a freshman to 27 in 81 innings as a sophomore to 30 in 109 this past season.

And the scouts started to notice, and the interest really ramped up last summer when he was invited to play in the prestigious Cape Cod League.

“Coming into this year,” said Akin, “the fall I got back, scouts started flocking to me in Kalamazoo and wanting to meet me.

“It kind of blew up from that. That’s what started this journey.”

Akin had a great summer on the Cape, finishing sixth in the league in strikeouts, with 39 in 33.1 innings. He had a 2.70 ERA against some of the best hitting prospects in the country.

Akin’s fastball these days sits low to mid 90s, as he rolled through MAC play as the team’s Friday night ace, at one point posting 30.2 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.

His first pro test will be in the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League, starting June 22.

“I know they’ve got a really, really good pitching coach,” Akin said of the Orioles’ Dave Wallace. “It trickles down through the minor-league system. And hopefully I can work my way up from there.”

The second day of the MLB draft, featuring rounds 3-10, started just after noon Friday.

Akin always was considered the consensus top pick from the state of Michigan, but there were others on his heels.

* In the fourth round, 127th overall, Michigan junior left-hander Brett Adcock went to the Houston Astros.

* In the fifth round, 159th overall, Henry Ford Community College left-hander Kyle Roberts, from Allen Park, went to the Texas Rangers.

* In the sixth round, 195th overall, Michigan State senior left-hander Cam Vieaux went to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

* In the seventh round, 216th overall, Michigan State junior infielder Jordan Zimmerman went to the Los Angeles Angels.

* In the eighth round, 234rd overall, Cornerstone University junior left-hander Benjamin Sheckler went to the San Diego Padres.

* In the ninth round, 272nd overall, Clarendon College (Texas) outfielder Hosea Nelson, from Detroit, went to the Cleveland Indians. Also, 275th overall, Indiana senior left-hander Caleb Baragar, from Jenison, went to the San Francisco Giants.

* And in the 10th round, 314th overall, Michigan State sophomore right-hander Dakota Mekkes went to the Chicago Cubs.

Several more Michigan and Michigan State players figure to be taken in mid to later rounds. The draft concludes Saturday with the final 30 rounds.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984