The Detroit Tigers selected Akil Baddoo with the third overall pick of the most recent Rule 5 Draft. Finding up to date and relevant information about any of the prospects heading into the 2021 season is hard enough, but for Baddoo that is tenfold. He didn’t play much in 2019 before suffering a season ending injury in May of that year. The injury was a UCL tear, which required Tommy John surgery followed by a long rehab process. The cancelled minor league season last year means he hasn’t played in a professional game in a long time, and that leaves very little recent information to go off of.
After taking all of that into account the Tigers must’ve seen something in Baddoo, because due to Rule 5 restrictions he has to be on the active roster for the entirety of 2021. There are options, like a buyout deal with the team he was drafted from, the Minnesota Twins, but that has yet to happen. This also means Baddoo could be out of the organization at any time if the Tigers decide he isn’t worth holding on the MLB roster.
At best, the Rule 5 Draft is a handful of dart throws. Baddoo is the first hitter taken by Detroit in that draft since Victor Reyes in 2017. Since then, they’ve also selected pitchers Reed Garrett and Rony García, only one of whom is still with the organization.
Baddoo was a pretty exciting high school name back in 2016 when he was drafted by the Twins in the Competitive Balance B round. He will turn 23 in August and has yet to play above Advanced A. Part of that is the unfortunate timing for a long rehab from TJ surgery leading into a year with no minor league season.
He played in just 29 games at the Advanced-A level before succumbing to injury slashing .214/.290/.393, hitting four homers and stealing six bases in that time. In the small sample he also struck out at clip just shy of 30 percent, a number that sat at 24 percent over a larger body of work in 2018.
It’s likely the Tigers will try to stash Baddoo on the bench as much as possible this year if he makes team out of Spring Training. It’s worth noting there are currently eight total outfielders on the 40-man roster, so he will have to show something for the organization to be persuaded to go that route.
Players with power and speed are very intriguing and that is what Badoo brings to the table. He’s shown the ability to steal, swiping six bases in 29 games before his 2019 injury. Before that he stole 24 bases the year before. He was showing plus speed before not appearing in a game for a long time, so if he does make the roster for the regular season he can provide use as a pinch runner for the team. Longer term he has the speed to play center field should the bat develop enough.
There is also power upside that makes Baddoo particularly intriguing. His power is generated from his quick hands at the plate, which also helps him to get around on all sorts of pitches. He also swings with a slight uppercut that allows him to drive the ball well when he finds the barrel. This played out well in 2018 where he posted 22 doubles, 11 triples, and 11 homers through 113 games. Even in 2019 he had three doubles, three triples, and a pair of long balls. So his power doesn’t just play over the fence, there is gap power that mixes with his speed for plenty of extra base hits all around.
His upside is also a big plus. When it comes to the Rule 5 Draft, teams generally protect the players with plenty of upside. Badoo has more than the average available player from that draft. Should they hang onto him all season, the Tigers are betting on the tools and hoping to land an uncut gem whose injury history let him slip through the cracks in the Twins’ system. If Baddoo can tap into his potential, then he could be looked at as a great Rule 5 pick down the road. That, however, is a big ‘if’ and patience will be required as the circumstances are going to see him well overmatched by major league pitching this year.
The strikeout numbers are a little misleading, but his hit tool is one of his weakness. Swing and miss is there, but in watching Baddoo it seems like more of a pitch selection issue than anything. He does have a good knowledge of the strike zone, highlighted by high walk rates. Its not that he can’t get to velocity or adjust to offspeed when he sees it, but he likes to swing the bat, so when he identifies a strike his hands start to go. That lends itself to the opportunity for breaking balls to drop under his bat. It also means there are some ugly swings where he does make contact that isn’t great. That will be a big key to his development and reaching his potential.
Beyond the questions with his bat, his defensive abilities have a few weak points as well. His speed helps him on the defensive side of the ball, and purely from a fielding standpoint he probably could handle centerfield. His arm, even before the injury, was not fit for center. He likely would have to settle into left field to get the most out of him defensively. However, after undergoing UCL surgery, it’s possible those evaluations of his arm will change dramatically.
Finally, the situation he finds himself in is a difficult one from a development standpoint. By rights, he should probably be getting his feet wet at the Double-A level, and even there, patience is required as he hasn’t seen live game action for almost two years now. The Tigers stashed Victor Reyes on their roster for a full season under the same circumstances, and he has emerged to reasonable success, but they have more options now than they did in 2018. Ideally, the Tigers would like what they see in camp enough to trade for his full rights and put him on the proper development path.
In short, the odds here aren’t very good, and for things to work out will require plenty of patience. Assuming he makes the team long term, which is not a given, he’ll have to find a way to more consistently hit the barrel. Maybe that is taking more pitches, maybe there’s a wrinkle in his swing at the Tigers coaching staff can unlock. There are just a lot of factors against Baddoo becoming a valuable member of the MLB roster.
Projected 2021 Team: MLB Detroit Tigers
There’s not much surprise here, he has to be on the Tigers. If the Detroit attempts a buyout-type deal with Minnesota, then he probably starts with West Michigan. But until such a deal emerges, he is tied to the big club, and there isn’t much playing time available. The Tigers have added Robbie Grossman and Nomar Mazara in free agency, and they’re largely going to hold down the corners while JaCoby Jones plays center field and Victor Reyes is mixed in at all three positions. That doesn’t leave much playing time available.