MLB scouts project future for Detroit Tigers’ Rule 5 draft pick Akil Baddoo

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
 
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Tigers are taking a chance on outfielder Akil Baddoo.

The 22-year-old was selected No. 3 overall by the Tigers — from the Minnesota Twins — in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. He was the No. 13 prospect in the Twins’ farm system, according to MLB Pipeline.

For the pick, the Tigers paid $100,000 to the Twins. Baddoo hasn’t played above High-A, but he needs to stay on the 26-man roster for the entire regular season or be offered back to his old ballclub for $50,000.

“There’s going to be growing pains,” one American League scout said. “There’s a good chance that he’s overmatched in his first looks in the big leagues, but I think it’s a smart move for Detroit. Either a fourth outfielder if he doesn’t bulk up, or a corner platoon guy if he gets a little more power.

“But there’s upside beyond that. Some people still believe he could be a regular. For a guy you’re getting in the Rule 5, that’s pretty good.”

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Baddoo, a left-handed hitter, is a bounce-back candidate after hitting a mere .214 in High-A Fort Myers during the 2019 season. He added four homers, nine RBIs, 12 walks and 39 strikeouts in 29 games.

His season was cut short by Tommy John surgery that May. The minors were canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so Baddoo hasn’t returned to in-game action.

“Look where the Tigers are coming from,” the scout said. “They’re noncontenders. They can afford to give this guy a roster spot because it’s OK if he has developmental growing pains. Where they are on the competitive cycle, this pick made a lot of sense.”

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In 2018, Baddoo spent 113 games for Single-A Cedar Rapids. He recorded a .243 batting average with 11 triples, 11 homers and 40 RBIs, adding 74 walks and 124 strikeouts.

He was much better in 2017 between the Gulf Coast League (20 games) and Appalachian League (33 games). Combined, Baddoo hit .323 with four home runs and 29 RBIs. He took 36 walks compared to 32 strikeouts.

Before the bigs: ‘Already had maturity’ 

More than four years ago, Baddoo was recognized as a top prospect in the 2016 draft from Salem High School in Georgia. He ended up going in the second round (No. 74 overall) to the Twins.

One National League scout, who evaluated Baddoo as a junior and senior in preparation for the draft, said his competitiveness always stood out.

“This guy showed up to play,” the scout said. “He was at every event. He was there because he loved to be there. That was very evident. As far as his makeup goes, I can’t think of anything negative about his character or personality. You weren’t afraid to pull the trigger (and draft) those types of players. They make you like them.”

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The scout noticed a “compact stroke” with “bat speed over bat strength.” Many scouts thought Baddoo’s power would come with time. He wasn’t a finished product on defense, either, but he had the instincts to play center field.

“Marginal arm strength,” the scout said. “It wasn’t plus-arm, but it was playable. He was one of those players that you thought you could leave him in center (field) until he proved to you he couldn’t play center.”

At the plate, Baddoo was advanced. And he was willing to show up early for games and practices to take extra swings and focus on his fielding skills.

“He had a pretty aggressive approach,” the scout said. “He knew what a strike was. Aggressive and smart. He would chase some but not often. Already had a maturity about him. He takes pride in his craft.”

Baddoo will need to make a leap when he arrives at the Tigers’ spring training facility in February. He projects to enter toward the bottom of the depth chart, but the Tigers believe there’s a chance he can work his way into a role in the outfield.

With defense and speed (47 stolen bases in 233 minor-league games) giving him an advantage, Baddoo could be used similar to Victor Reyes, who made the majors in 2018 as a Rule 5 pick.

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“Akil had standout tools when he signed out of high school, and we’ve definitely seen them on display during his time in professional baseball. We’ve seen the power, speed and defense from him, and are excited for him to work with our coaching staff,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said in a statement.

“He’s got the rare athletic ability to be a high-level defender in the outfield and really impact the ball from the left side of the plate, and we look forward to him showing it this coming season.”

Meet Yuniel Perez

In the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, the Tigers picked up right-hander Yuniel Perez from the Chicago Cubs.

Most recently, the 21-year-old pitched for Short-Season A Eugene for 13 games (three starts) in 2019. The 6-foot-4 righty had a 4.73 ERA, 1.575 WHIP, 30 strikeouts and 21 walks in 26⅔ innings.

“He’s a big, strong kid with a good arm,” one NL scout said. “Kinda raw and wild. Averaged 95 mph back in 2019 pitching for Eugene.”

To be eligible for this phase of the Rule 5 draft, a player must be left off the 40-man MLB roster and the 38-man Triple-A roster. Unlike the MLB phase, the minor league phase doesn’t have roster restrictions. The new team only has to pay $24,000 to the player’s previous team.

Perez was signed by the Cubs in August 2015 from the Dominican Republic. 

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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