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Prospect Middleton trusted Angels in season of change
By Doug Miller
Keynan Middleton knows that a lot of talent and the willingness to make a few adjustments can go a long way. Maybe even all the way to the Major Leagues.
The 23-year-old right-hander is the No. 23 prospect in the Angels' system, according to MLBPipeline.com, and he's firmly on the team's radar as a potential late-inning relief ace. This is a relatively new development, considering the team selected him in the third round of the 2013 Draft out of Lane Community College as a starter, but, as Middleton knows quite well, things change.
Take, for example, the fact he was a basketball star in college, until the Angels plucked him and he decided to see how far baseball could take him.
"I definitely had to weigh my options, with basketball being my No. 1 sport growing up, but with that opportunity handed to me, being so young, being 19 years old, you can't really pass up that opportunity when it comes your way," Middleton said recently at the MLB/MLB Players Association Rookie Career Development Program.
"I was a three-sport athlete my whole life, so if any of those opportunities were thrown at me, I would have taken it."
The Angels are glad he did. After the switch to relieving in 2016, Middleton made it from Class A Advanced Inland Empire to Triple-A Salt Lake.
Suddenly, his fastball ticked up to 95-99 mph, and sometimes triple digits. His slider improved, and his two-pitch mix became more refined and easier to command. The Portland, Ore., native, who's 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, struck out 88 batters in 66 combined innings across three Minor League levels last season, pitching to a 3.41 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He also impressed the Angels with his willingness to adapt to the new role, and with his toughness on the mound.
"That's pretty much exactly what it was, just simplifying everything," Middleton said. "Not worrying about going out there five, six innings at a time. Just going out there, shutting it down three innings at a time, and then the next night coming out and doing the exact same thing. Just saving a lot of bullets. My velo came up. Everything. It was just a really good move for me."
Now, Middleton is an even more exciting prospect, and he said he feels thankful he went through the sometimes-discouraging tribulations that prompted the role change.
"There were some days you couldn't see the light and it was kind of hard, but the one thing they told me was just to trust the process," Middleton said. "I was a basketball player trying to be a baseball player, so with my athleticism, just trust the process and one day it would work out.
"So I did what they said, and it worked."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.