Prospect: Keynan Middleton Rank: 6
2015/16: #21 in 2014 Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher
Level: AAA Salt Lake Age: Entering Age 23 season in 2017.
Height: 6’2” Weight: 190 lb.
Present – Future
Fastball 70 70
Slider 50 60
Change 40 40
Mechanics 50 50
Command 40 50
Control 45 50
Ceiling: Dominant, elite, all-star caliber closer.
Likely Outcome: A very good set up man.
Summary: Once upon a time, Keynan Middleton was a projectable Junior College arm out of Oregon of all places. In 2014, he topped out at #21 on MWAH Top 30, never to return again until now. He was a standout collegiate basketball player and sat in the low-90’s on the mound. His off-speed pitches showed promise, but no polish. The same could be said for his mechanics and his command. In 2014 and 2015, the Angels tried keeping Middleton in the rotation, but it just didn’t go as planned. His velocity was inconsistent, his breaking balls were nothing more than “show me” pitches which were hit hard, and Middleton never materialized as the mid-rotation starter they thought he could be. The Angels made the wise decision to move Middleton to relief in Spring Training, and he opened some eyes with his velocity climbing up over 95 for the first time in his professional career last March.
He returned to the Cal League where he was torched as a starter, only to dominate for long stretches. The Angels moved him up to AA, and he was even better, posting an ERA of 1.20 with more than a K per inning. More importantly, Middleton found the strike zone and his fastball went from 95-96 to 97-98. The dominance in AA was short lived however, as the Angels saw enough and moved him up to AAA. In AAA, Middleton was inconsistent. At times, his fastball sat at 100, and others it sat 95-96. Some appearances he was unhittable, and others his stuff just did not move or break. On the whole, it was enough to excite scouts (and myself).
A 22 year old hitting 102 on the radar gun is pretty serious. While it has occurred to me the radar gun was probably hot, it has also become clear that Middleton can bring high 90’s heat night in and night out. That alone is enough to merit a major league appearance. It should be noted, that the slider is an average pitch at this point. Middleton has progressed with his slider to the point where we saw a rather sharp break with the pitch, but until he can consistently spot it where he wants, it remains simply an average pitch, which could leave him susceptible to major league hitters. We can equate this with Cam Bedrosian’s recent breakout as a reliever. The velocity was always there, but it was Cam’s developed ability to spot his slider that made him a weapon, and effective in the majors.
I also believe that Middleton began to tire at the end of the year, which was the reason behind the velocity fluctuation. It’s hard to picture one night throwing 98-99 and the next night throwing 94-95 and not think there’s something wrong. With Middleton, it comes down to the adjustments he’s made, and keeping his stamina in check. If he can do this, he should be able to hang around 97-98 on a regular basis, which is the building block for something special. At the end of the day, I think the Angels have a lethal set up man on their hands, one that can bridge the gap, or take the ball in the 9th if necessary.
What to expect next season: Middleton should return to AAA next season unless he’s promoted to the majors. The Angels will for sure be focusing on Middleton’s command of his slider and if he can repeat his mechanics and spot the fastball. If he locates his slider, it’s reasonable to expect the Angels to break camp with Middleton. If they’re worried about controlling his clock (typically a moot point with relievers) then they may choose to wait a month or two. If Middleton does return to AAA, keep an eye on his GB% and HR/9. Both looked solid in the PCL, which is a bit of a revelation. If that continues, it’s reasonable to expect to see Middleton in Anaheim for the majority of the year.
Estimated Time of Arrival: June, 2017.