BACK (L-R): Coach Josh Blunt, Assistant Zach Kayser, Logan Roberts, Boone Casarez, Bryan Jakiemiec, Austin Crowson, Landen Bourassa, Josh Rodriquez, Drew Smernes, Brad O'Connor, DJ Wilson, Jordan Hadley, Hank Forrest, Assistant Josh Hogan. MIDDLE (L-R): Kyle Keith, David Bellamy, Bryce Tilton, Josh Overstreet, Sammy Silva, Cooper Webster, Elis Stratton, Austin Vaughn. FRONT (L-R): Bruin Campbell, Bailey Castro, Brannon Whyte, Ben Giland, Brody Rich, Skyelor Ishikawa, Paul Turner, Aaron Hutchinson, Cam Russ.
Pitch puts Middleton on Angels’ radar
By Jarrid Denney | For The Register-Guard
It’s safe to say that Keynan Middleton generated a bit of a buzz last month in his debut for the Salt Lake Bees.
The former two-sport star at Lane Community College had a strong outing for the Los Angeles Angels’ AAA affiliate, with four strikeouts in two scoreless innings of relief in a 4-2 victory over Reno on Aug. 8.
But what got the biggest notice in that effort was a single pitch. In the eighth inning, Middleton unleashed a fastball that was clocked at 102 mph on the stadium radar gun.
According to MLB Statcast, only three pitchers in Major League Baseball touched 102 mph this season — Aroldis Chapman (105.1), Mauricio Cabrera (103.8) and Arquimedes Caminero (102.2). The 22-year-old right-hander clocked one in a minor league stadium where the average attendance is 7,195.
“Shoot, you’re in AAA. You’re a guy with his stuff, there’s not a whole lot of guys like that in baseball,” Salt Lake manager Keith Johnson said.
Middleton was drafted by the Angels in the third round of the 2013 MLB draft after just one year of playing basketball and baseball for Lane. In his fourth season as a pro, Middleton has begun to reach the potential that the Angels saw when he was that draft’s highest-selected junior college player.
This past season, Middleton soared through the Angels’ minor league system, moving from advanced-A ball (Inland Empire 66ers in San Bernardino, Calif.) at the start of the year, made a brief stop at AA (Arkansas Travelers of North Little Rock, Ark.), and finishing the season at AAA Salt Lake, where he has become one of the Angels’ most coveted prospects.
After seeing mixed results as a starter and battling injuries for the first three years of his pro career, a move to the bullpen has allowed Middleton to thrive. He struck out 88 in 66 innings this season and has added a changeup and slider to a fastball that has always been his best pitch.
“This year, going to the pen actually helped me figure things out and helped me going into situations where you have to use all your pitches,” Middleton said.
At Lane, Middleton’s fastball registered in the 94- to 95-mph range, but he said that he was only throwing with his arm and had no lower body mechanics.
A three-sport star at Milwaukie High, Middleton’s first love was basketball. He was the Titans’ starting shooting guard during his lone winter at Lane, and led the team in three-pointers while shooting 39 percent and averaging 12 points. But Middleton never focused on baseball.
“He walked on our campus and was sort of a freak athletically,” Lane coach Bruce Chavka said. “He just made it all look effortless … The really cool, amazing thing that he did was being able to balance all of it with academics and baseball and basketball. Not everybody can do that.”
Chavka said that if Middleton had focused solely on basketball, his second-best sport, he was capable of playing at the low Division I level. Middleton chose to pursue baseball but often questioned if it was the right decision.
“The last couple years, not having the success baseball-wise, I’m like, ‘Dang, should I have kept playing basketball?’” Middleton said. “It was definitely hard; it was really frustrating to go out there every night when I didn’t have all my stuff … If there was a day when I couldn’t command my fastball, all hell broke loose. “
His coaches at Inland Empire worked with Middleton to overhaul his mechanics. He added a twist to his windup that he said is similar to San Francisco Giants star Johnny Cueto.
He gained confidence in his changeup, his shoulder stopped hurting and his velocity began to spike.
“He’s been a guy with electric stuff,” Johnson said. “Obviously his fastball is electric, but a guy who can land a slider and changeup with that repertoire, he’s gone right through our system.”
Mechanics and success aren’t all that have improved Middleton’s outlook. Before his third season, Middleton and his wife, Nicole, had a daughter, Kamrynn, who is 18 months.
“The best drive that I have is having my daughter and having to provide for a family. It literally changed my life,” Middleton says. “Now I think about baseball more … I’m more locked into the games. I’ve just matured a lot on and off the field this past year.”
Middleton didn’t earn a September callup from the Angels, and a spot on a major league roster may be a ways away. But if Middleton’s meteoric rise during the past five months is any indicator, nothing is out of the question.
“It feels unreal,” Middleton says. “Definitely.”
Red-hot Titans now alone in first in South
OREGON CITY — David Bellamy went 6-for-8 on the day, and Lane took sole possession of the South Region lead in the Northwest Athletic Conference baseball race with a doubleheader sweep of Clackamas on Saturday.
The Titans (27-9, 15-5) have won 13 in a row and have a one-game lead in the South on Mount Hood, which split its twinbill with Chemeketa.
Bellamy, a sophomore out of Sheldon High, was 4-for-4 with an RBI in the 9-7 opening win. Bruin Campbell drove in three runs and Logan Roberts was 3-for-4 with a double and triple.
In Lane’s 8-1 win in the nightcap, Bellamy added two more hits, including a double, to raise his average to .412, third best in the NWAC. Bryce Tilton and Jordan Hadley each drove in two runs to back the three-hit pitching of Austin Crowson (6-1) and Drew Smermes.
The Cougars (5-29, 3-21) have lost their last 17 games.
Lane finishes its regular season with a four-game, home-and-home series against Chemeketa next weekend.
Titans take over first with 11th straight win
Logan Roberts doubled in the tying run in the seventh inning and scored two batters later on a balk to give Lane an 8-7 walk-off win over Clackamas for its 11th consecutive victory and a sweep of the Northwest Athletic Conference baseball doubleheader at Titan Field on Friday.
The Titans (25-9, 13-5) are tied with Mount Hood for the NWAC South Region lead with six games remaining.
The Titans took the opener, 6-0, behind the three-hit pitching of Kyle Keith (4-1) through eight innings. David Bellamy and Jordan Hadley each had a double and two of Lane’s 11 hits.
Titans’ sweep pushes win streak to seven
COOS BAY — Cam Russ drove in six runs and Lane ran its winning streak to seven games with a Northwest Athletic Conference baseball doubleheader sweep of Southwestern Oregon Community College on Saturday.
Russ had four RBIs in an 11-4 opening win for the Titans (21-9, 9-5 South Region). Brody Rich also drove in two runs, Ben Giland went 4-for-5 and Logan Roberts added a solo home run as Lane banged out 16 hits in the romp over the Lakers (10-25, 4-12).
In the nightcap, Russ had two more RBIs to tie David Bellamy for the team lead with 18 in an 8-2 victory. Giland and Bellamy each had two of Lane’s seven hits.
Landen Bourassa (3-1) struck out seven over 4 1/3 innings in the win.