In advance of Thursday's draft, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be drafted in the first round. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Next is Keegan Akin, 6-foot-1, 195 lb. left-hander from Western Michigan who has quickly risen up draft boards this spring. The Midland, Mich. native posted a stellar 1.46 ERA in 16 starts with the Broncos this season, leading the team to their its first NCAA Tournament since 1989.
Akin has impressed scouts with his command and velocity from the left side, and is widely projected as a 2nd- or 3rd-round pick in the draft. Baseball America recently ranked him as the 86th best prospect in the class, and he spoke at length with MLBDD last week:
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realize you loved playing the game?
"I'd have to go as early as 5 or 6 years old. That's when I first started playing. I was a huge Braves fan and Chipper Jones fan at the time. That's what started my childhood dream, from what my parents tell me and from what I can remember. I always hoped to be an Atlanta Brave one day and be a professional baseball player in general. I remember I started to play summer ball when I was like 7 or 8. I was dropping other sports...I would play baseball and miss football workouts in the fall. When I got older, things like that. Baseball was my number 1 sport and my favorite."
How does someone from Michigan become a huge Braves fan?
"My dad, honestly. He was a big Chipper Jones fan and was always watching the Braves. It translated over from him. I loved watching baseball, it would always be the Braves. Chipper ended up being my favorite player."
Obviously you come from a place in Michigan where you're unable to play year-round. How do you think your experience has been different than guys from warm-weather places like California and Florida? Is it a disadvantage for you?
"Yeah, I would say so. I don't want to make excuses for it but there are always those advantages...the weather and things like that. As a position player, I can see how there would be a little bit more of a disadvantage, but as a pitcher, not so much. I have a place where I work out back home that is an indoor facility with dirt mounds. Since I was little, there has always been that dirt mound to mimic real life. You're not throwing off a dirt mound or something else, I've had dirt since I was little. It's not a disadvantage too much, but even in college, we're stuck inside on turf for the first couple weeks of the season. The southern teams and the west coast teams are outside at least some part of the day doing something."
When was the moment you realized your dream of playing professional baseball could become a reality?
"I didn't realize it until college. My dad and some of the coaches I had when I was younger said I had the skills and the talent. I didn't really believe it. Especially after I found out I was going to Cape Cod last summer to play summer ball, it really kicked in a little bit. As a kid, that was always a dream to go play on the Cape. I finally got to do that and it was a great accomplishment."
You led Western Michigan to the school's first NCAA Baseball Tournament since 1989, having a good second half of the year after a 1-13 start and winning the MAC Tournament. What did that mean to you, to be able to bring the program back to the NCAA Tournament?
"It means a lot. We went through a lot of adversity people don't know about. Opening weekend, coaches had to change five plane tickets from kids we thought were going to redshirt to starters. There was five injuries right there, off the top. One of our teammates who probably had a good shot of being the starting center-fielder [Beau Filkins] was diagnosed with cancer in the early fall. He overcame that. There was a good stretch where a couple kids got mono and were out for a couple weeks. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes thing that people don't know about that were our extra motivation to win a MAC Championship."
ESPN's Keith Law was recently quoted as saying you may profile as a reliever in the pros. Where do you see yourself going forward, as a starter or reliever?
"Honestly, I don't care. Anywhere I can contribute to a team is all I care about. Just getting that shot at playing in the bigs someday. I don't care if I'm a starter, a closer, or a long reliever. Any way I can participate is enough for me."
What's your greatest strength as a pitcher?
"My biggest strength is my fastball from the physical side of things. The mental side, which is the most important part of the game, I think... I'm pretty good at having a short memory and forgetting about things like a bad start or an error behind me. I've learned to overcome them better and handle those types of situations."
What about your biggest weakness? What do you want to work on the most?
"I would say just to perfect my pitches even more. Getting to the point where it doesn't matter what count it is or who is up at bat, just perfecting my pitches even more than I think they are. Especially off-speed, because that's what's going to make or break it at the next level."
Who is the major-leaguer, current or former, who you resemble the most as a pitcher?
"Chipper Jones was obviously my favorite... I would go with Jon Lester from a mechanical aspect. He's obviously a little bit taller than me, but you see more 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 guys than you do 6-foot. Lester's still a big guy, but that's who I usually kind of relate to. Especially mechanically, and how he handles his business."
What is your expectation for where you'll be picked? Any specific teams showing the strongest interest?
"I don't really have an expectation. I'm hearing all sorts of things, so I'm staying open-minded about it. It's obviously a great experience, not a lot of people get to go through this. Very blessed with everything going on. All 30 teams have shown interest... it's the draft. You know how it works. You can't predict anything. You just have to go with the flow, let things take their course and handle them when the chance is given."