As a Rule 5 draft selection in 2021, Akil Baddoo burst onto the scene and immediately became a fan favorite in Detroit. In his first major league at bat, he launched a home run on the first pitch he saw. Talk about bursting onto the scene with a bang. Many exciting moments followed and while it was a roller coaster ride, Baddoo finished his rookie season as an above average hitter. At just 23-years-old and with no prior experience above A-ball, it looked like the Tigers had found a piece who would grow as part of its young core.
Unfortunately, the tide turned for Baddoo and he found himself underwater for much of last year. Through April, he hit just .111 with a strikeout rate north of 28 percent. In May, he found himself in Triple-A Toledo for the first time. He took his assignment in stride and put up big numbers down there, but was never really able to get back to his rookie level when returning to Detroit in July, finishing the year worth a putrid 65 wRC+ and -0.2 fWAR over 225 plate appearances. Now, with his roster spot uncertain, Baddoo will have to use every bit of playing time he gets to prove that he should still be a part of the Tigers long term plans.
Akil Baddoo 2021-2022
As of this writing, there’s been no indication as to whether Baddoo will be heading north to Detroit, or if his trip will stop on I-75 prior to the Michigan border in Toledo. As a Buckeye, (Ed. note- I’m not sure why they feel the need to tell us this fact), I personally love Ohio but being told “we’re sending you to Toledo,” has to be one of the worst phrases a Tigers player can hear. Right now, it seems like Baddoo is in a battle with fellow left-handed hitting outfielder Kerry Carpenter to start the year as the strong side platoon option in left field.
With excellent speed, Baddoo has shown the ability to play all three outfield spots, though his routes can be a bit of an adventure. Baddoo has played pretty well defensively this spring, showing continued improvement, and the ability to handle even center field could give him an edge over Carpenter, whose lack of speed and similarly poor routes limit him to the corners. AJ Hinch loves positional flexibility, and adding Baddoo to the roster would give the Tigers three guys who can play all three outfield spots with the others being Riley Greene and Matt Vierling.
Baddoo had a good spring training, posting an .800 OPS with three home runs and three stolen bases over 19 games. While spring training stats carry little-to-no weight, the successes and failures of guys on the bubble in camp is undoubtedly a factor in whether they make the team. The fact that Baddoo looked closer to his rookie self is an objectively good thing for his odds of starting the season in the major leagues.
There’s not another player on the roster who is quite like Baddoo. His unique combination of speed and power make him a threat at the plate and on the bases. This is a guy who can stretch singles into doubles, and delights in the opportunities to turn doubles into triples. As a rookie, he stole 18 bags and managed another nine last year. With the new bigger bases and shorter basepaths, he could wreak havoc out there this season if he can follow his primary mandate from manager A.J. Hinch and just get on base more often.
He also has the batspeed to simply turn pitches into home runs, something that we could see more of in 2023 with the outfield fences being moved in at Comerica Park. Another skill that Baddoo possesses that sets him apart from some hitters his age is the ability to spray the ball all over the field. The majority of his hits last season went to center and left field, and four of his 13 home runs in 2021 went out to left.
So, we have a young player still only 24 years old, a year younger than Carpenter, who still possesses close to elite speed and plus raw power, and draws a pretty good amount of walks. There’s still an awful lot to like in the profile.
The downside of his game is all the swings and misses. With a strikeout rate as a rookie of 26.5% and 28.4% last year, his blazing speed is rendered useless if he’s only using his legs to to walk back to the dugout. Hitters can survive with high strikeout rates, but they have to offset it with consistent power, high on-base ability, or a combination of both. Baddoo’s strikeout rates aren’t exactly terrible, but he will need to unlock more consistency in trimming the swing and miss if he wishes to be an impact player on the big club.
One of the main things Baddoo is going to have to do this season to have success is get back to driving the fastball. It’s an oversimplification, but the basics of hitting at the major league level is being able to mash fastballs and react to everything else. As a rookie, he slugged .539 against four seamers to only .386 last year. That is a trend in desperate need of a reversal. If he can drive fastballs, his zone discipline and power should carry him the rest of the way, despite some weaknesses against offspeed stuff.
As a left-handed platoon player, Baddoo has to hit right handed pitching at the least to prove his worth. The issue with that is a 67 wRC+ last year against righties, a stark contrast from the 129 he posted in 2021. Considering his weak side platoon partner in Vierling was worth a mere 63 wRC+ facing right handed pitchers, there’s certainly opportunity for a left-handed bat out there.
Baddoo should get a chance to show that 2021 was not a fluke, but if Kerry Carpenter continues mashing right-handed pitching at the clip he’s been on over the past year, Baddoo’s path becomes more difficult. It’s not impossible that the Tigers could take he and Carpenter both north, with Carpenter getting some designated hitter work as well, but we’ll have to see how the roster forms up in the coming days.
Whether Akil Baddoo is long for a role in Detroit is totally dependent on what version of him shows up. Will we get the rookie version of Baddoo who set the league on fire with his electric base running and his laser shows to all fields, or will we get last season’s version who struggled to drive the ball, struck out a little more, and couldn’t hold a spot in Detroit? With the season set to start this week, we don’t have much longer to wait to find out.