Continuing our series of MLB Rookie Profiles, we turn our attention to the West Coast. Los Angeles Angels rookie Keynan Middleton was promoted to the majors way back on May 5th and has been pitching quite well. He slipped through our transaction dragnet at the time but he must be profiled. Let’s correct the oversight.
Middleton was drafted by the Angels in the third round in 2013 from Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon. Initially a starter, he struggled with command and control particularly of his secondary pitches, posting a 6.45 ERA in rookie ball in 2014 and a 5.30 ERA in Low-A in 2015 with poor peripherals in both seasons.
The Angels converted him to the bullpen last year and the results were immediate: he showed dramatic improvement in all respects and finished the season in Triple-A. Middleton rated as a Grade C+ pre-season, ranked sixth on the Los Angeles Angels Top 20 prospects for 2017 list with the following commentary:
6) Keynan Middleton, RHP, Grade C+: Age 23, third round pick in 2013 from Lane Community College; posted 3.41 ERA with 88/28 K/BB in 66 innings at High-A, Double-A, Triple-A; converted starter worked well in relief, showing improve fastball up to 98-100 MPH and a good (if erratic) slider; doesn’t use change-up much in pen and ready for a trial. ETA 2017.
He opened with a 2.84 ERA in 12.2 innings for Triple-A Salt Lake this year, earning his way to the Show. So far for the Angels he has a 3.60 ERA in 20 innings with a 21/10 K/BB and 16 hits allowed.
Middleton is listed at 6-2, 185, a right-handed hitter and thrower born September 12th, 1993. His fastball has been clocked as high as 99 MPH this year and averages 95.7 according to Fangraphs. He mixes in a slider that can hit 92 and averages 86. This looks like a plus pitch, Brooks Baseball noting that the slider “generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers' sliders.” He relies on the hard stuff and seldom uses his mediocre change-up.
He still needs to improve his overall command but there’s no question that Middleton is better-suited for relief work than starting. Right now he is a competently solid short and middle reliever. If he can lower the walks a bit further, he might get a chance to close games someday.