Akins shifts focus to baseball

SURPRISE, Ariz. – The Texas Rangers convinced Jordan Akins to pass up an opportunity to play both football and baseball at the University of Central Florida, and now the 18-year-old is refining his game with the AZL Rangers. Lone Star Dugout features the talented outfield prospect.

The Texas Rangers filled an organizational need for high-ceiling outfield talent when they selected Jordan Akins with their third-round pick in last month's MLB Draft.

The 18-year-old is a product of Union Grove High School in McDonough, Ga., less than a half-hour drive from Atlanta.

In other words, he hails from one of the nation's richest talent pools of young baseball and football prospects.

Akins was a two-sport athlete in high school himself, starring as a quarterback in the football team's wildcat offense [click for highlights] as well as an outfielder on the baseball squad.

The youngster eventually signed a letter of intent to play both baseball and football at the University of Central Florida, one of the few Division I schools that would allow him to play both sports.

Akins also received football scholarship offers from Georgia, Georgia Tech, Maryland, and Ole Miss, among others.

When the baseball draft came in early June, the Rangers took a shot on the elite athlete with their third-round selection, and he signed a couple weeks after for a $350,000 bonus––just a tick above slot level.

"It was a dream come true," said Akins of signing his first pro contract. "I've been wanting to go pro ever since I was young.

"It was a hard decision, though, between football. I had a full scholarship to the University of Central Florida, and I turned it down for the Rangers. I wanted to come play ball and fulfill my dreams."

Akins chose baseball in part because he felt it was better for his future.

"It was baseball and football 50-50 when I was growing up," he said. "But as I grew up, I realized it was less painful and I'd last longer, so I decided I was going with baseball."

Akins is currently playing with the rookie-level AZL Rangers in Surprsie, Ariz. The club plays a 56-game schedule with a two hour-plus afternoon practice before each game.

It's an environment that Akins believes will help him develop, as he is putting his entire focus toward baseball for the first time in his life.

"I've never been focused on one sport," he said. "I've always been going back and forth. But now that I am, I think it's better for me. I can learn more and just get better at one sport."

Though he is still getting accustomed to the professional game, Akins started his summer by sharing the outfield with a couple familiar faces in Jake Skole and Braxton Lane. All three prospects were two-sport prep stars out of Georgia who signed dual baseball-football collegiate letters of intent.

"I knew Skole from some workouts earlier, but I didn't know Braxton," said Akins. "But right now, Braxton is kind of my right-hand guy."

Akins is in the same boat as Lane, who passed up an opportunity to play both baseball and football at the University of Oregon after getting drafted in the seventh round last summer.

Both outfielders have found some early success in the Arizona League, hitting in an AZL Rangers lineup that leads the circuit with a .304 batting average and 133 runs scored through 19 games.

Through his first 14 contests, Akins is 12-for-43 [.279] with two doubles, a triple, four walks, and two stolen bases. He has picked up the pace of late, getting four singles in a recent game against the Padres.

"My first five games weren't as good as I thought they should be," he said. "But now I'm coming around. They fixed up the fundamentals of my swing, so I'm getting there."

Because he has never been a full-time baseball player, the Rangers are going to have to be patient with Akins, who has outstanding tools but untapped skills.

The 6-foot-3, 192-pound outfielder possesses plus power potential, excellent speed, and a strong arm. However, in game situations, his lack of experience also means he can struggle against live pitching.

But the early results have been somewhat encouraging, proving that Akins is far from lost at the plate. While he isn't yet squaring the ball up with consistency, he is putting it in play, striking out just seven times in his first 14 contests.

AZL Rangers manager Jayce Tingler has been impressed not only with Akins' natural talent, but also his ability to learn on the fly.

"Jordan is a big-time athlete that has a pretty good feel for baseball, coming from a football background," Tingler said. "He comes to work every day ready to work and ready to accomplish one thing––to get better.

"Whatever it is, whether it's his bunting, his jumps in the outfield, his turns at first––we just try to accomplish one little thing every day with him. He's a very intelligent kid, and he seems to grab that information and then be able to advance to the next day for whatever the lesson is."

While Akins' frame appears a bit wiry, he has plenty of strength, as the ball jumps off his bat when he makes solid contact.

The raw batting practice pop should carry over in to game situations as he shores up his swing and slows the game down.

"I'm working on my balance and my hand-eye coordination," Akins said. "I'm working on getting to the inside pitches and pushing the ball.

"All those fundamentals have helped it look a lot slower when I'm at the plate. I'm seeing the ball way better––reading the pitches better."

A centerfielder in high school, Akins is spending most of his time in right field this summer. He has the athleticism to play any of the three outfield spots, but his plus arm strength fits in well at a corner position.

Akins is also raw defensively, as he struggles with his reads and still must learn to get maximum carry behind his throws from right, but he is developing and has the tools to succeed.

"My hips," said Akins when asked about his focus in the outfield. "I'm working on opening up my hips, switching directions, and reading the ball off the bat."

Even with the solid results thus far, the talented outfielder still sees room for improvement this season.

"I want to improve my hitting skills," he said. "I want to start hitting it into the gaps and hitting for power. I also want to steal more bases."

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