Detroit Tigers Newsletter: Why Akil Baddoo has us humming a hopeful tune

Detroit Free Press

Who came along in a puff of smoke?

That’s a line from a 1955 Broadway musical — “Damn Yankees” — and it introduces “Shoeless Joe Hardy,” a fictional member of the non-fictional Washington Senators who (65-year-old spoiler alert!) makes a deal with the devil to beat the Yankees … which is something we might consider if the Detroit Tigers’ rebuild stretches on much longer. (Or at least beat Cleveland – maybe we could get a cut rate…)

But hey, this is the Detroit Tigers Newsletter, and right now, Akil Baddoo is emerging from his own puff of smoke down in Lakeland.

In 36 plate appearances over 15 games, the 22-year-old has 10 hits, four home runs, two doubles and eight walks (albeit with nine strikeouts) for a .357/.500/.857 slash line. (And yes, that’s a 1.357 OPS.)

It’s not that he’s a complete unknown — the Tigers selected him No. 3 in December’s Rule 5 draft, and he was a second-round pick by the Twins back in 2016, 10 picks after future NL Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso and a couple rounds ahead of future AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber.

But to go from pick No. 74 to exposed in the Rule 5 draft in just four years lowers expectations a bit, y’know.

Strong as the heart of a mighty oak …

And yet, here he is, doing his best to slug his way onto the 26-man roster. (If he doesn’t make it, or the Tigers want to send him down during the season, they first have to offer him back to Minnesota.)

Of course, 36 plate appearances is, yep, a Pretty Small Sample Size (PSSS, for short). But what can we learn from some other PSSS?

Let’s go back to last spring’s abbreviated camp, when just one Tiger hit four home runs in a PSSS: outfielder Travis Demeritte, who did so in just 16 at-bats. He also had just one other hit and struck out nine times with one walk. Fast forward to the abbreviated 2020 season, and he posted a slash line of .172/.273/.207, which explains why he’s in Atlanta’s camp this spring.

The best unproven hitter in 2019’s full camp — still a PSSS — was third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who had nine extra-base hits and six strikeouts in 19 games en route to a 1.007 spring OPS … and then stunk up the regular season with 99 strikeouts in 94 games.

Or we could go back to the last Rule 5 position player to stick with the Tigers: outfielder Victor Reyes, who joined the organization for 2018. That spring, he had a slash line of .232/.271/.268, which, in most years, would have gotten him offered back to his old team. Instead, he lasted the whole year in Detroit — REBUILD! — with a .509 OPS in 219 plate appearances.

He’ll fight for us, do right for us!

Of course, Candelario and Reyes took big steps forward after that, and have spots locked up on this year’s roster, so there’s hope for Baddoo going forward, even if he struggles once the PSSS becomes a PLSS (Pretty Long Sample Size). Then again, that’s assuming he makes the Opening Day roster.

He’ll be a beacon light for us!

The Freep’s Evan Petzold took his next-to-last swing for the spring at projecting the Tigers’ 26-man roster, and Baddoo has broken into Our Man Petzold’s hypothetical bench squad. Click here to find out who else he thinks will be heading north for April.

Feeling right again

Speaking of great springs — unfortunately, we used our musical cue for him in last week’s newsletter — veteran righty Julio Teheran’s magic March continued last week with four scoreless innings (and seven strikeouts) against the Phillies. Teheran’s velocity and slider appear back to his 2016 NL All-Star form. He sat down with Our Man Petzold for the full story on his rehab for a shoulder injury he didn’t even know he had. Click here to find out why Teheran is pumped up for the season to begin: “I feel like I’m ready. It doesn’t matter who I’m facing, I got confidence. I got all the confidence that I need to play this game and be good.”

Up in the zone

Teheran isn’t the only reason to be optimistic about the Tigers’ pitching staff, whose 4.39 ERA this spring is 10th in the big leagues. They’ve been working on attacking the top of the strike zone in an effort to counter the legion of hitters who’ve adopted elevated launch angles while looking for a boost in home runs. The results haven’t been perfect, but the precedent is there, starting with two aces manager AJ Hinch worked with in Houston: Justin Verlander (remember him?) and Gerrit Cole. Click here to find out who has already picked up the approach in camp with the Tigers.

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Have a seat at the CoPa

Tigers fans hoping to catch the team in person received some good news Friday as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Comerica Park’s capacity limit would be raised to 8,200, 20% of the normal 41,000-seat capacity. Honestly, it might be tough to tell the capacity is limited by the Gov.’s edict, considering the Tigers averaged just under 19,000 tickets sold per game in 2019, and a lot of those “tickets sold” were dressed as empty seats. Still, the hard part begins now — or April 1, at least, according to the Freep’s Jeff Seidel, who is hopeful that Tigers fans can set an example for the state. Click here to find out why.

Down on the farm

There’s at least two people we know won’t be at Comerica Park for Opening Day: top prospects Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson, who were both cut from the Tigers big-league camp. The duo (and budding bromance) struggled a bit in games, going a combined 4-for-38 at the plate, but impressed Hinch, who told Our Man Petzold: “The makeup is real and the talent is real.” Click here to find out what Greenelson … Torkreene …. Uh, Greene and Torkelson will be doing for the rest of March.

Goodbye, ol’ FSD

Nearly 8,600 days after it launched, Fox Sports Detroit will have a new name: Beginning March 31, the sports network will rebrand as “Bally Sports Detroit,” to match the 18 other regional sports networks owned and operated by Sinclair for a year since buying them from Disney as part of an anti-trust settlement. If that sounds like a lot of legalese to get to how to watch Tigers games in April, the Freep’s Tyler J. Davis has the breakdown here of the change that comes 8,596 days after the Sept. 17,1997, launch of FSD. (How long ago was that? On that day, the Wings took the ice for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup, the Tigers lost to the Yankees to fall three games below .500 and the Lions were 2-1 in the midst of a season in which they made the playoffs.)

This week’s Tigers birthdays: Jose Valverde (43 on Wednesday), Travis Fryman (52 on Thursday).

Three to watch

Three players to keep an eye on this week:

TARIK SKUBAL: Half of his 24 outs this spring have been strikeouts

TYLER ALEXANDER: ‘He’s getting through his innings in seven, eight, nine pitches’

JOSE URENA: Takes the mound on Wednesday vs. the Phillies on FSD

Mark your calendar

The Tigers’ time in Lakeland is winding down, with just nine games left on the spring training schedule. There are just two televised games left, both at 1:05 p.m. this week: Tuesday against the Yankees and Wednesday against the Phillies. We’re also running out of days for rotation contenders to lock down their spots: Former No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize takes the mound Thursday against the Blue Jays. It’s been a rough spring for Mize, with a 9.90 ERA and 10 walks in 10 innings. Still, it hasn’t been all negative, with Hinch sounding positive after Mize’s start last week. Click here for Our Man Petzold’s breakdown of what went right for Mize.

TL;DR

If the 8,596-day span of “Fox Sports Detroit” is still hard to grasp, there’s one last number: Five, as in the number of wins in football for Michigan over Ohio State since FSD went live. Maybe “BSD” will be the solution for OSU?

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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