Akins' Reputation Precedes Him
Los Angeles prep infielder hasn't played all spring due to 2005 incident
Damon Akins wants the blame on him. Point the finger at him, and stop punishing his son Nick for his mistake.
"Guys are comparing my son to Milton Bradley and Elijah Dukes," the elder Akins says of Nick, a shortstop who attends his alma mater, Los Angeles High. "He ain't like that.
'It's a situation where we never had any problems with anybody. Unfortunately a decision I made is hurting him."
The comparisons stem from both Nick Akins' talent, which is significant and could get him drafted as high as the third round, and from a fight during a 2005 high school game that has sullied the reputation of a black, inner-city player whose attempts to rise above his surroundings have not gone as planned.
Damon Akins describes the South Central L.A. neighborhood he and his family live in as "f---ed up," which motivated him to get Nick to transfer to a better school. Scouts had noticed Nick was a player with potential in his early teens, and he was picked to play on youth travel teams with the top players elsewhere in the Southland such as Hank Conger and Chris Parmelee. Akins was emerging as a top prospect as a sophomore at Los Angeles High when his father realized he had the opportunity to use baseball to get out of his neighborhood. Akins transferred as a junior to El Camino Real High, a move that required him to take two-hour bus rides each way.
The move never worked as he had hoped, according to the elder Akins, starting with Nick playing predominantly center field rather than shortstop. El Camino Real coach Matt LaCour says while Akins' tools were clearly evident, he wasn't a dominant player. Akins hit a shade under .400 in his one season with El Camino.
"We had a very good shortstop already in J.P. Hollywood, who is going to play at Nevada," LaCour said. "Profiling him as a pro shortstop is not for me to do. (But) you could definitely see the tools that everyone talks about--he has a pro body and he can really run.
"He struggled a little on game days. He just hadn't played as much as the other guys on the team."
Akins' 2005 season came to a head in an ugly melee during a game against Sun Valley Poly High. The Akins family says the Poly team taunted Nick with racial epithets and intentionally beaned him during the game, making a pitching change and bringing in its hardest thrower for the task. No one disputes that after Akins was hit with a pitch, he trotted to first base while his father approached the Poly High dugout.
"I walked in the dugout. I was wrong for doing that," Damon Akins said. "I'm bigger than the average guy. When I walked in, one of their assistant coaches grabbed me, and it started. Only when the players started swinging at me did Nick leave first base. He came to get his dad's back."
Another area of agreement: Everyone wishes the fight, which resulted in several injured Poly players, hadn't happened.
"Nick's story is pretty clear-cut on what happened that day," LaCour said. "I wish somebody else could verify it. I don't think there were any scouts at the game, so when you hear something from scouts about that incident, it's second-hand.
"Nick didn't come to me when (the racial epithet) happened. If he had come to me, I would have gone across the field and confronted their coaches about it. If that incident had not happened, who knows where Nick's story goes."
But it did happen, and Nick's story took a major detour. LaCour says he and El Camino Real administrators decided Akins should not continue playing with the team. He did play in the Cape Cod High School Classic--losing to Parmelee in the home run derby--and in the Area Code Games for the second straight summer. El Camino Real went on to win the section championship without him.
Akins transferred back to Los Angeles High, his home school, for his senior year. While he was allowed to play volleyball and run track, however, he was not allowed to play on the baseball team despite a number of hearings and a lengthy appeals process. "Maybe the fact he transferred out and then transferred back had something to do with it, raised some red flags," LaCour said.
Instead, scouts have had to see Akins in an adult league weekend games, which one scout called "an insult. This guy has not faced a lot of top talent, and now here he is playing with 40-somethings who probably didn't even play in high school but are still living the dream. These guys are terrible players."
That makes scouting Akins doubly difficult. It hasn't stopped his tools from showing through, as he's had workouts with at least two organizations. Akins' father says the Royals even brought him to their extended spring training camp in Arizona, and scouts have been encouraged that Akins is working with Jim Lentine, an agent who has been a hitting instructor in the Rangers organization.
"Jim helps him a lot because he knows what we're looking for," a scout with a National League organization said. "There's no guessing. But there's also no track record compared to other players in the area."
A San Diego State recruit who will graduate from high school this spring, Akins is an above-average runner, though not a burner, and has plus-plus bat speed on a 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame. Akins also has an above-average arm and the athleticism to move to the outfield as a pro, which an area scout with an American League club said would probably be necessary.
"He doesn't have the footwork, the hands or the actions for shortstop and maybe not the range," the scout said. "He does have the best bat speed in my area, and my area is good. He's got 70 raw power, but it's hard to know how usable it is. He's represented by Jim Lentine, which really helps, and you can see he's got a chance to hit.
"But he's missed a lot of time and he's really raw. Plus, he's been painted as some kind of inner-city black kid thug, and that's not him. He's a good kid who's gotten a bad reputation."
LaCour agrees that Akins is still paying for his dad's mistake. When informed that two scouts had predicted Akins could go as high as the third round, however, LaCour sounded surprised.
"Nick just has to learn the work ethic that it will take for him to be successful," LaCour said. "He's a nice kid. He's not disrespectful. He has the tools; for him it's about controlling the beast in terms of his swing."
And getting over the beast of a reputation that one bad day has created.DRAFT DOTS
• MONDAY UPDATE: Walters State (Tenn.) edged Yavapai (Ariz.) 7-6 to win the NJCAA World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., on Sunday. The two most prominent draft-and-follows involved in the game signed almost immediately. The Athletics got a deal done with athletic outfielder Shane Keough
, son and grandson of big leaguers, while the Reds signed infielder Milton Loo
, their ninth-round pick a year ago. Loo signed for a reported $220,000, the same amount he turned down a year ago.
• The Royals came away impressed with Luke Hochevar
after seeing his most recent start--six shutout innings--with the Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association. The Royals, however, will almost certainly would want a predraft agreement with whoever they settle on for the No. 1 pick, and they remain leery because Hochevar reneged on an oral agreement with the Dodgers last year for $2.98 million bonus and then went back to Scott Boras
as agent. One line of speculation held that if the Royals think they can sign Hochevar for less than Andrew Miller's
reported $5.5 million price tag, then they would select him with the first overall pick.
• With his team done playing, Columbia Basin (Wash.) Community College righthander Steve Marquardt
signed with the Rangers as a draft-and-follow for a $170,000 bonus. Marquardt, who has plus power in a mature 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, ranked No. 135 on BA's Top 200 Prospects list.
The Braves signed the top pitcher in California's juco ranks, righthander Tommy Hanson
of Riverside Community College, for a $325,000 bonus, second-highest among draft-and-follows after the $500,000 the Angels gave to Sean O'Sullivan
. Hanson, a 22nd-round pick a year ago, led the state in strikeouts with 148 in 109 innings and has a projectable 6-foot-6, 210-pound frame. The Braves also signed Pierce Junior College infielder Willie Cabrera
, their 14th-round pick a year ago, for $150,000.
The Giants signed one of the best hitters in the California juco ranks in Riverside outfielder Thomas Neal
, giving him a $220,000 bonus. The Marlins gave a similar bonus to first baseman Logan Morrison
, their 22nd-round pick last year. Morrison was playing at Albert Pujols
' alma mater, Maple Woods (Mo.) Community College.
• Two intriguing fifth-year seniors who have signed include Louisiana State outfielder Quinn Stewart
, who signed with the Devil Rays for $75,000 after hitting 23 homers for the Tigers, and righthander Rocky Roquet
of Cal Poly, who signed with the Cubs after going 1-1, 2.36 with 10 saves for the Mustangs.Contributing: Jim Callis, Alan Eskew, Kristin Pratt.