| The Detroit News
Immediately you know, from the fluency of his thoughts and words, that Akil Baddoo was tempted by his University of Kentucky scholarship for more reasons than baseball.
“Business,” he said Friday when asked about his probable major had he taken that UK offer.
In fact, a business decision is what he made in June 2016. He opted for $750,000 from the Twins to sign as a professional outfielder and left-handed hitter who four years later now finds himself ready to wear a Tigers uniform for at least all of 2021.
It isn’t a sure thing, although there would appear to be little chance the Tigers won’t carry Baddoo on their 2021 big-league active roster as is the requirement for players who have been snatched from December’s Rule 5 draft.
The Tigers took Baddoo third overall in this month’s Rule 5 sweepstakes, wagering that a 22-year-old, 6-foot-1, 213-pound man with speed and power could cut it as a long-term roster investment, especially when he came at a bargain price of $100,000.
Business decisions, it seems, are made by all parties.
Baddoo was listening on the MLB.com website Dec. 10 when the Rule 5 draft was called to order and his name was announced a few minutes later.
“Surreal moment,” he said during a Zoom interview Friday. “Kind of like getting drafted (in 2016).
“I’m honored and looking forward to playing for the Detroit Tigers.”
The Tigers are rather happy themselves.
Tigers general manager Al Avila was rhapsodizing after the Rule 5 session, mentioning that “the kid’s got tools” and how Baddoo’s “pure athleticism” could help a roster that needs plenty of everything.
“If he sticks,” Avila said, “he’s a legitimate center fielder and everyday prospect.”
Those words: “If he sticks.” Rule 5 draft picks come with a big catch, in that a player who wasn’t good enough to have earned a 40-man roster spot with his previous team (Twins, in Baddoo’s case) is now expected to keep a 25- or 26-man active-roster seat warm for the entire coming big-league season.
That puts pressure on everyone, beginning with a team, and especially managers, who don’t like using an active-roster spot as sanctuary for a player who figures to see little everyday work.
Baddoo will feel pressure, also. He has not played above Single A. Now, he joins a team where opposing pitching will be powerful and even cruel. And he doesn’t figure to have the benefit of regular work as the Tigers consider keeping him on the big-league team, all with the expectation that after he fulfills his one-year minimum in Detroit the Tigers can then return him to the minors for the everyday shifts he doesn’t figure to receive in 2021.
But the Tigers figure to be patient. Baddo has speed and power as well as that outfield versatility to which Avila referred. He was a second-round pick by the Twins as he departed Grace Christian Academy, in Covington, Georgia, where he spent his senior year after transferring from Salem High in nearby Conyers, his hometown since he was 4 years old.
Baddoo was born in Silver Springs, Maryland, and those curious about his unique name have, of course, his parents to thank. His mother is from Trinidad and Tobago, while his father is from Ghana. Thus, the son’s name: Akil Neoman Baddoo.
By no means was he unfamiliar to the Tigers when they latched onto him last week. Detroit’s amateur scouts had followed him in Conyers. They kept tabs as he did his minor-league apprenticeship with the Twins, a timetable that blew up in early 2019 when he had Tommy John surgery on his left (throwing) elbow.
That would have wiped out most of his 2020 minor-league season had COVID-19 eliminated the whole show for everyone. But he was cleared to play in Twins instructional camp in October and had a full routine there, which the Tigers were aware of as they pondered third overall options this month.
“Better than ever,” Baddoo said of his arm, which in his view also benefited after he “cleaned-up some mechanics.”
Baddoo’s speed is what sold the Tigers as much as his bat’s potential. He can get down the line, according to his measurements, in “3.7 or 3.8” seconds, while his overall speed “is probably better than it was before,” at least in Baddoo’s view.
Part of the uptick there has come from working at Home Plate Baseball, a skills-building site at Peachtree City, and at CrossFit Ransom, in nearby Covington, where his workout mate for several years has been Tigers all-purpose artist Niko Goodrum.
What the Tigers understand in tandem with Baddoo is any future with any big-league team will hinge on what he does with the bat.
If he had shown the Twins that his hitting was of greater value and potential than their existing crop of young outfielders, Baddoo would have had a reserved seat on Minnesota’s 40-man list. But, while his numbers may well evolve, this is what he shows for a four-year span on the Twins farm: .249 batting average, a healthy .357 on-base percentage, and a .422 slugging average, with an average of about one strikeout per game.
The Tigers weren’t dissuaded by a lukewarm batting average or by his strikeouts. They saw too much promise from from an all-around athlete whose earlier years in Conyers were spent as much playing volleyball as football and basketball and whose current regimen includes yoga.
“I think my all-around tools are great,” Baddoo said when asked to size up Akil Baddoo. “I like ’em all. I’ll do whatever – running, getting on base, scoring.
“I’m just excited to display all my (talents) and do whatever I can. And see where it takes me from there.”