Player: Keynan Middleton
DOB: 9/12/1993 (19 years old)
Acquired: 3rd round 2013 (95th overall) by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
HT: 6’2″ WT: 185
Twitter Scouting Report:
Very low mileage pitcher. Will take time. Two quality breaking balls and big fastball. Impact potential.
Keynan throws a 94 mph fastball, can snap off a hammer curve, and has the makings of a swing and miss slider. He can do all of this now. He has never played a full season of baseball. 2013 was his first year of exclusively pitching. It’s going to take time but the end product may be something special. The big debate will be whether Keynan ends up as a bullpen arm or a rotation piece. With three—and possibly four—quality pitches, he has the arsenal to handle a starting role. While the low mileage on his arm is generally a good thing, it also means his body has never had to adapt to anything close to a starter’s workload. I see him as a starter but it may take a full season of bad stat lines before that role becomes clear.
While most prospects are on the radar of scouts and front offices long before draft day, Middleton made a name for himself in a three-month span. Exactly 90 days went by between his first appearance out of the bullpen in college and the day the Angels popped him with 95th overall pick. Scouts couldn’t get a look at Keynan before then due to his basketball schedule. His offseason training for baseball consisted of one side session in the bullpen five days before the season was set to begin. I was at nearly every one of Keynan’s appearances, each of which saw his performance improve and the number of scouts increase from just myself in March to 24 front office personnel from 16 different teams in May.
Middleton fits the classic pitcher mold. He’s got height and carries his weight very well. He’ll likely add some weight, simply due to cutting basketball and saving all those calories he would otherwise run off on the court. His time spent playing basketball has produced a strong set of legs.
For a player who has never spent a ton of time working on his craft or had the benefit of an expert pitching coach, Keynan actually has some pretty solid mechanics. He generates above-average momentum and torque, particularly out of the windup. His lack of professional coaching shows up more when he is working out of the stretch. With runners on, the delivery becomes very upper half driven.
Keynan has a very quick and short arm action. He throws from a 3/4 arm slot. From the front it is very hard to pick up the ball out of his hand as his body shields it through the delivery until release. I’m usually not a fan of pitchers who throw with this short of arm path but he avoids several red flags I am always on the look out for. After he releases the ball his arm continues to extend and doesn’t recoil or bounce on the follow throw. From the side you can really see how quickly the arm works. While the arm action is short and quick he does not “short arm” the ball. Once his arm gets going his hand never comes inside his elbow. What I mean by this is the angle created by following an imaginary line from his wrist, to his elbow, to his shoulder never is less than 90 degrees.
His core and midsection work well in his delivery, but they are limited by his lower half. He strides across his body, cutting into his release distance and creating a bad angle to home plate. Given these factors, it’s impressive that Keynan is able to spot pitches to his glove side at all. His striding pattern should be fairly easy to fix and will give him much more consistency on all his pitches. Late in games, his stride really becomes an issue as his body tires. He will miss to his arm side and throw a good number of weak breaking balls as he struggles to really “get through” his front side.
There is some spine tilt late in his delivery but even this is driven by his closed stride angle. If you look at Keynan at max leg lift, his posture is great. This posture continues to be awesome through foot strike. Once his hips start to fire he is forced to tilt or else his release point would be somewhere in the middle of the right handed batters box. On breaking balls this angle is exaggerated. It will be interesting to see if/how the Angles adjust this aspect of Keynan’s delivery as all the other components of his delivery are impacted by his stride.
All of that being said, Middleton’s lower half is not a total train wreck. He is able to maintain good balance through his delivery and creates enough momentum to propel his back foot off the mound. Fixing that stride angle is the main issue. A smaller issue will be maintaining the same delivery on his pitches. Some pitchers give away pitches at release point. Keynan does this a bit too, but his lower half changes on a breaking ball compared to a fastball. On breaking balls he sinks into his backside and then “humps” through his delivery leading to a higher arm slot.
Out of the stretch, Keynan’s stuff flattens out. This makes sense, as it would be very hard to achieve that same pattern of sinking into his backside and then “humping” over when Keynan is throwing with a slide step. With his arm action already being so quick I would not be surprised to see Keynan scrap the slide step and find some sort of smaller leg lift. He’s in the 1-1.1 second range to home plate so he can afford to add a little bit to his delivery.
Fastball: He mostly throws a four-seam fastball but discovered a two-seam fastball late in his college season. The four-seamer sits anywhere from 88 to 92 and has peaked at 94. The fastball really jumps on hitters as they cannot see it until his release point. It will flash some life with late run to his arm side. When it is properly elevated it is very tough to hit, especially for righties. The issue is that Keynan doesn’t really throw downhill and if he misses his location vertically the pitch can appear very flat and hittable. With a new focus on baseball and receiving professional instruction his fastball should tick up here in the coming years.
The two-seam sits at the same velocity but has much more life to his arm side and some late sink. I really like this pitch as it gives him more room for error than his four-seam. If Keynan misses vertically with his four-seamer he is asking for trouble, while the two-seamer has enough lateral movement to miss the meat of the barrel. At this point he is only throwing this pitch to his arm side.
Curveball: When its right, this breaking ball is nasty. 70-74 mph with very aggressive 11-to-5 vertical drop. At times he really sells out for this pitch and it ends up popping out of his hand. Professional hitters will recognize this mistake and adjust. The movement of the pitch is good enough to where Keynan can throw it in nearly any count. He gets strikes both swinging and looking on this pitch. He can even miss a spot and leave the pitch catching too much of the zone and still generate swinging strikes. When batters are swinging and missing at pitches in the zone, you know you have a special offering. Keynan throws this pitch fairly equally to righties and lefties with a slight preference to righties as he can bury it in the dirt to his glove side to getting righties chasing.
He has some problems throwing this pitch late in games and out of the stretch. This all ties back to his mechanics. Late in games it will pop out of his hand and just spin on its trip to home plate. On a pure movement level this pitch is better than his slider but has less utility due to his own inconsistency.
Slider: Thrown at 78-80 mph with decent movement. It moves enough with a late vertical drop to be a useful pitch, but what makes this pitch most effective is how Keynan is able to throw it. The ball doesn’t have the distinctive dot that many sliders have and this allows hitters to key in on it. Honestly the pitch is more of a power curve that Keynan calls a slider. Righties see this pitch much more often than lefties will. To lefties, he has a problem throwing the pitch as a backdoor strike. When it gets thrown the ball ends up in the dirt on the inner third of the plate.
He is much more consistent with his slider. When both breaking pitches are good, the curveball is better. If he is having trouble with both then he will fall back on the slider. Talking with, Keynan he feels he has better control of the slider than any of his other offerings. Moving forward I would like to see Keynan throw this pitch harder and find a way to make it useful against left-handed hitters.
Cambio: I have seen him throw a changeup exactly once in a game and let’s just say the pitch is a project. He does work on this pitch in the pen but it’s still a long ways away. His whole mechanics stiffen up for this pitch and it gives the hitter an obvious new look that something that isn’t a fastball is coming. On the positive side, he likes working on the pitch and has an idea of how his hand should be coming off the ball. Staying positive, he keeps arm speed for the pitch and drags his back foot in an attempt to take off some velocity. There are the makings of a changeup in his future but for now it will be a bullpen project and make a rare appearance or two in games.
Command and Control
This is going to be the last developmental hurdle that Keynan will have to conquer. He lacks both command and control. (Command = ability to throw strikes. Control = ability to throw the ball to a specific location) Usually this is a major red flag for me, but two factors lessen my worry. The first is just how raw Keynan is. Even though the stuff is filthy, this is a young man who has called himself strictly a pitcher for not even a year. The second factor is that Keynan is aware of these deficiencies and actively trying to fix them. Two starts back in April illustrate this point.
In the first start Keynan went six innings, giving up two hits and only 1 walk. Successful start right? He was upset with himself following the game because he knew he was catching too much of the plate and only looked good due to the level of his competition. He told me his next start he would try to work the corners more. In his next start he walked six in five innings but gave up no hits. The walks weren’t a product of extreme wildness. Keynan simply wouldn’t concede the middle of the plate even to batters lower in the batting order. All of this goes to show that he already has an idea of how he needs to pitch to succeed at a high level. Hopefully getting into a professional system will give him the tools he needs to actualize on the crazy potential he possesses.
Let’s recap. Here are the grades for Keynan
Balance – 50
Torque – 55
Posture-35 – 40
Release Distance – 35
Repetition – 40
Present grade / Future grade
Four-seam FB: 50/65
Two-seam FB: 40/50
These grades consider both the movement and command and control of the pitch.
Future Role: No. 3 starter who will have some rough early years in the minors as he transfers from an athlete who can pitch to an athletic pitcher.