Kent State athletics

At the park: scouting Kent State and Western Michigan

Jeff Ellis was on-hand last week for an in-person look at an intriguing lefty vs. lefty match-up between Kent State and Western Michigan. Inside is his report on Eric Lauer and Keegan Akin.

Last week, I rushed from my day job to see Western Michigan face Kent State. The reason I had to race is, while it might be spring, no one alerted the state of Ohio to this fact. Indeed, it snowed repeatedly over the weekend. Amid concerns of oncoming weather, Kent State moved the game from 6pm to 2pm. I reached the game in the sixth inning and only got to see a little of the best pitching matchup in the state of Ohio this year. 

The reason this was the top pitching matchup was that it featured a pair of lefties who have a chance to go pretty high this year, both of whom show pretty good velocity. I will say when I mentioned this at the game I did get an argument, but I think most if not all would agree with me. 

I got to see Kent State’s Eric Lauer pitching first. I have also seen him in the past. As a matter of fact, I have yet to see a game where Lauer is sharp. Each game I have gone to has featured some struggles with his command. I am not sure if it’s mechanics or just him trying to be too fine, but he can start to miss his spots during a game. This can lead to him looking like a dominating pitcher for a few innings, then looking like a future bullpen arm for a few, then go back to being a dominating future first rounder.

On Friday, he was mostly in the mid-90s; his highest velocity was 93. He is an excellent athlete and showed it by making a nice coverage play at first, which was the final out he recorded. There was no one covering, so he had to run to beat the hitter and managed to do it. Most college pitchers I’ve seen would not be able to make that play. I will get another chance or two to see Lauer. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and I can see more than just a few innings. I will have a further report then.

Keegan Akin is a player I have not mentioned all year. Statistically speaking, he has been the best pitcher in the MAC this year, if not the entire NCAA. He combines a high strikeout total with a microscopic ERA and has had a major breakout as a junior. His strikes are way up; he is currently tied for 25th-best in the NCAA. He has only given up more than two runs in a game once all year. Friday against Kent State was the first time it happened.

The scouting report on Akin was a very interesting read before I attended the game. Any time you get reports about a lefty hitting 96 and putting up the numbers he has, you have to be intrigued. On Friday his highest velocity was 95. It wasn’t his fastball that was his best pitch, however. Instead, his slider was the best pitch I saw all day. It had a really nice bite and always seemed to tie up hitters when utilized. I only saw it a handful of times, but its movement made it above average and a potential out-pitch. Akin is not a name I have heard a lot about, but it was pretty clear he has a chance to have two above-average pitches.

Akin is 6’1”, which is not an issue to me, but for some will mean his future is in the bullpen. I think he will find long term success in the bullpen, but not because of his height. Akin has failed to go deep into games this year. While strikeout pitchers will typically have higher pitch counts, there seem to be some issues with his command.

A lefty who can hit the mid 90’s is always going to be valuable. I see a likely left-handed reliever here, but all it will take is one team to see a possible back-end starter and I could see Akin going in the third round, maybe higher. I would think that a likely 4-6 round projection would make the most sense for Akin.

Other names of note

  • Zach Willeman is a reliever for Kent State. He was sitting 94, and hit 95. He is a big kid at 6’3” and 200 pounds. Only a sophomore, I will be curious to see if he starts next year.
  • Zarley Zalewski is a senior at Kent State. He was drafted by the Pirates out of high school in the 40th round. He was a shortstop, but grew out of the position. Zalewski has always hit well, but never showed much power. His swing has an upper cut that, along with his size, should generate power.

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