Akins flashing serious potential

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Outfielder Jordan Akins' game made significant strides during the 2011 regular season, but he took things to another level during the recent fall instructional league. Lone Star Dugout features and interviews the 19-year-old prospect.

Jordan Akins was somewhat of an unknown in the baseball world when the Texas Rangers selected him with their third-round selection in the 2010 MLB Draft. Coming out of Union Grove High School in Georgia, Akins was best-known as a football player, starring as an option quarterback, wide receiver, and kick returner. His talents on the football field led to quite the impressive highlight reel during his senior campaign.

Out of high school, Akins signed a dual letter of intent to play both football and baseball at Central Florida. He passed up football offers from Georgia, Georgia Tech, Maryland, and Ole Miss, among many others.

Akins ultimately committed to baseball, though, when he signed with the Rangers for a reported $350,000 signing bonus in 2010. College football will always be a fallback option for the talented athlete, but after his first full season, it's looking more and more like baseball was the right choice.

When the 6-foot-3, 211-pound outfielder entered the Rangers' organization, he flashed raw talent but was understandably raw after never focusing full-time on baseball. He posted a .187/.241/.252 slash line in 36 games with the rookie-level Arizona Rangers in his first summer, struggling with pitch recognition at the plate and reading fly balls in the outfield.

Akins repeated the rookie level in 2011––his first full professional season––and the results were much improved across the board. In 48 contests, Akins batted .283 with 12 doubles, four triples, and two home runs. He also stole 13 bases in 15 attempts while playing solid defense in center field.

Although the 19-year-old prospect earned a late-season promotion to Single-A Hickory, he didn't appear in any games. Still, Akins was certainly happy to be away from the Rangers' complex in Surprise for the first time in his pro career.

Akins' breakout as a professional may have come at the recent fall instructional league. In batting practice, the right-handed hitter shows easy plus power to all fields. During games, he does a better job of recognizing and tracking breaking balls out of the pitcher's hand. It's an improvement that, in the following interview, Akins chalks up to an early-instructs adjustment to his stance.

Simply put––the game is starting to look easier and more natural for Akins.

The former wide receiver recruit has a big body but also elite wheels to go with it. While Akins' straight-line speed between home and first is ‘just' above average, he can hit a second level and flashes 70-grade speed when rounding the bag.

Primarily a centerfielder this season, Akins is doing a better job of reading balls off the bat with more experience. He may ultimately find a home in right field, where he should have good range to go along with plus arm strength.

Akins is still raw in many aspects, but he took a significant leap in the right direction this season. He'll enter spring training in 2012 looking to earn a full-season roster spot in the Single-A Hickory outfield.

If his Arizona League and instructs performance was any indication, Akins could be primed for a statistical breakout next season. He earns high marks from the organization for his work ethic, and it's a good mix with his rare combination of plus to plus-plus raw tools.



Prospect Video:

Jordan Akins batting practice from Jason Cole on Vimeo.




Jason Cole: As you look back on your first season in pro ball, what were your thoughts?

Jordan Akins: I feel pretty good. I came a long way. I was working a lot on my mechanics. Instead of an open stance, I went to a square stance––squared up. I was quicker to the ball. My hands are quicker, so I've got to wait longer. I'm trying to hit to the opposite side of the field. I've been working on my arm, too. My arm is stronger. I'm working on hitting my cutoffs. All around––I'm just working on the whole game.

Cole: Does it feel like it's getting a little bit easier for you as you get more experience?

Akins: It does. Usually I was focusing on two sports, but now I'm focusing on one, so it's a lot easier. The game is slowing down, and I'm seeing the ball better. I'm laying off the curveball, and I'm hitting the fastball. I'm also getting good jumps in the outfield. It's all coming together.

Cole: The more you see good breaking balls out here, are you just able to track them out of the hand better?

Akins: Right. Especially being square. In the open stance, I was moving as the ball was moving. With the square stance, I can see the ball breaking so I can get to it and make good contact.

Cole: When did you make that adjustment?

Akins: Actually, I'd say it was about two or three weeks ago––when we first flew into camp.

Cole: Even though you certainly improved in the Arizona League, it seems that you've taken an even bigger step forward during instructs. Do you feel that adjustment was the main push?

Akins: Right. I'd say it's seeing a lot of pitches and being around the game a lot more. Going to the Dominican helped me a lot. I was able to get extra swings and work with my coaches every day.

Cole: You went to the Dominican for instructs last year?

Akins: Yeah. I went for Dominican instructs last year.

Cole: What was that experience like? I'm sure you had never been down there before.

Akins: It was different. It was a good experience. You see a lot of pitching––more fastballs. They don't throw as many curveballs as you see here. But it was a good experience.

Cole: Was it kind of 24/7 baseball there?

Akins: Oh yeah, 24/7. You wake up at 6:00 in the morning and you're running. After that, you get your work in and you hit. Then you go back in and play a game. After the game, you've got extra work. Then it's all repeated the next day.

Cole: How many other American guys were with you down there?

Akins: Kendall Radcliffe was with me. It was just me and Kendall at the time. I know Jake Skole went, Chris Hanna went, and Kellin Deglan went.

Cole: How do you feel you can continue to improve? What areas do you feel you can progress in the most?

Akins: I have a long way to go, I'd say. But hitting––hitting for power. I'm finally starting to get comfortable in the box, so I think I can hit for a lot more power. Bunting––I think that will be a big part of my game. With the outfield, I think I'm almost there in the outfield. I'm feeling comfortable and getting good jumps. I'd say working on the deep balls close to the fence and around the warning track.

Cole: How much of a factor is just gaining confidence and knowing you can have success?

Akins: Confidence is a big thing. Hitting is mental, to me. If you're thinking negative, you're not going to do so well. But if you've confident when you get in the box, you can do a lot of things you wouldn't think you could do.

Cole: You've been playing a lot of center field this season. Do you feel most comfortable there?

Akins: Yes, it is. I've been playing center since I was little. Moving to right field––all of it, I can do it. But center field is where I'm most comfortable.

Cole: You mentioned gaining arm strength. Even though you've always had a strong arm, can you talk about the challenges of getting the full carry behind the baseball from out there? It seems like you're doing that with more consistency.

Akins: Right. I think it's all about getting behind the ball. When you come through it, you don't stop. A lot of players hesitate. You have to get a good crow-hop, stay through the ball, and let the ball go about belt-high. You have to just let it go. A lot of players are scared because of accuracy. But you work on it, throw it at full speed, and it'll come.

Cole: Having spent two years here in the complex league, is there any extra motivation to get out during spring training next year?

Akins: Oh yes, definitely. I mean, the AZL is not where you want to be. But it's a learning experience, and it definitely motivates me to get out of here next year. Definitely.


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