Detroit Tigers mailbag: What is happening to rookie Akil Baddoo after strong start?

Detroit Free Press

The celebration of Detroit Tigers Opening Day has dwindled, and the chore of getting through a 162-game campaign is underway.

In AJ Hinch’s first year as manager, the Tigers are 6-10 entering Tuesday, in last place in the American League Central. That’s where they’ve finished in three of the past four seasons.

And the Tigers are a confusing team, too, getting swept by Cleveland in three games, sweeping the Houston Astros in three games and getting swept by the Oakland Athletics in four games. Inconsistencies are the problem, mainly in the batting order and bullpen.

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After 16 games, nearly 10% of the season, here’s a look at our mailbag:

 

Baddoo’s first nine major league games are incomparable to his last three — all against the Oakland Athletics amid a four-game series sweep. He started 10-for-27 (.370) with two doubles, one triple, four home runs, 11 RBIs, one walk and eight strikeouts.

Since then, Baddoo is 0-for-11 with eight strikeouts.

Considering the 22-year-old’s immediate rise to fame, it’s understandable why there’s immediate doubt now that he has crashed into his first MLB slump. Of course, it was bound to happen — it happens to everyone.

[ How Akil Baddoo’s first 10 games track with some modern greats ]

But Baddoo’s situation is a bit different, only because this is his first sign of troubles after such an impressive start. His strikeout rate is worse than poor, and he isn’t drawing walks as he did in spring training. Baddoo swings-and-misses at 47.4% of fastballs, 46.2% of off-speed pitches and 43.8% of breaking balls.

He is struggling to put the ball in play and generate quality at-bats, which includes drawing walks. It will be a tough battle back from his first signs of failure.

The only way to tell if Baddoo’s early-season success — albeit in a small sample — is somewhat sustainable is to watch how he responds. Pitchers are starting to figure him out, so he needs to adjust based on their adjustments.

His makeup, however, is certainly something to be excited about. He looks like a big leaguer, runs like a big leaguer and has a fearless mindset. He can play all three outfield positions, with the upside of an everyday center fielder, and could steal bases at a high rate if he improves his awareness.

Although right-hander Casey Mize and lefty Tarik Skubal are no longer prospects, they were the first youngsters to arrive as mainstays on the 26-man roster, doing so by making the team out of spring training.

For now, don’t expect to see first/third baseman Spencer Torkelson and outfielder Riley Greene, two of the best bats in the farm system, get to the majors this season. Catcher Dillon Dingler, outfielder Daniel Cabrera and outfielder Parker Meadows have plenty to learn, too. Lefty Joey Wentz and righty Alex Faedo are still rehabbing Tommy John surgery.

But the Tigers believe prospects like right-hander Matt Manning, third baseman Isaac Paredes, outfielder Daz Cameron, catcher Jake Rogers and second baseman Kody Clemens could advance soon.

Their arrivals (or returns) will be determined more by their development than how the team is playing. (The Tigers are unlikely to contend for the postseason.) But it’s a different scenario for each prospect.

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Paredes, Cameron and Rogers have already made their MLB debuts, but they started the season in Triple-A Toledo. The Tigers aren’t as confident in Rogers’ status as the catcher of the future, but he will make his way back if he competes in his minor-league at-bats. Manning pitched for Double-A Erie in 2019 and at the alternate training site last season.

Rogers could get a call-up solely if Grayson Greiner is struggling, either on offense or defense. Cameron is unlikely to get back to the majors this season because of the Tigers’ outfield logjam, but a couple of injuries could open the door. Paredes is destined to return in 2021, especially with second base added to his resume.

Manning is the one fans are most excited about.

His MLB debut should come this summer if he continues to refine his repertoire in the minors and push the Tigers to give him a chance. Hinch and general manager Al Avila have already hinted at this timeline.

But Manning is also tied to the innings limits for Mize and Skubal. Whenever Mize or Skubal need to be shut down or moved to the bullpen, the Tigers hope Manning will be ready to enter the starting rotation.

[ Dan Hasty gets call up of a lifetime to Tigers booth. He has Ernie Harwell to thank ]

The Tigers had a chance to trade Boyd at the 2019 trade deadline and later that year in the offseason, but they refused and hung onto him. He struggled in 2020, with a 6.71 ERA in 12 starts. He pitched through a hamstring injury suffered during summer training camp and had plantar fasciitis in his left foot during his last couple of starts.

This season, the 30-year-old looks much better. He owns a 2.03 ERA through four starts and has only given up one home run in 26⅔ innings. He paced the majors with 15 homers allowed in 2020 across 60⅓ innings. And Boyd has six walks and 19 strikeouts this year.

He becomes a free agent after the 2022 season.

Right now, it’s too soon to tell how the Tigers feel about trading Boyd. While his value continues to rise with each start, he must prove long-term consistency before other teams are willing to consider giving away premier players (or prospects) for him.

Assuming Boyd continues to dominate, the odds of a trade should increase because the return packages will only improve. But he’s a veteran pitcher in a youth-filled starting rotation, so maybe it’s worth it to keep him around anyway. Or the Tigers regret not trading Boyd two seasons ago and push to make something happen.

Time and performance will eventually make this clear.

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

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