Detroit Tigers’ AJ Hinch vouches for three players in AL Rookie of the Year race

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch mentioned outfielder Akil Baddoo, and he didn’t shy away from adding right-hander Casey Mize into the mix. Both players, Hinch believes, deserve more recognition in the American League Rookie of the Year race.

“They’ll be late,” Hinch said Wednesday about Baddoo. “Whenever it starts to generate, it’ll be late.”

But Hinch didn’t forget about catcher Eric Haase.

“We’ve got three guys that are standing out amongst their peers as being viable guys for that type of award at the end of the year,” Hinch said. “A lot can happen over the next couple months, so I generally don’t like talking about awards, but they need the recognition for being significant contributors in their first season.”

It’s not surprising Mize — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft — has stepped up as the team’s best starting pitcher this season. Yet the efforts from Baddoo, a 22-year-old Rule 5 draft pick, and Haase, a 28-year-old once deemed organizational depth, continue to shock.

Haase (Dearborn Divine Child) is hitting .242 with 17 home runs in 54 games.

“His best attribute is how dangerous he can be at the plate,” Hinch said. “He doesn’t ever waver. He’s got opposite field power. He’s got pull power. He is a threat every time that he steps in the box. There’s a tough-minded approach.”

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In Tuesday’s ninth inning, Haase stepped to the plate with one out and the bases loaded. To this point, he was hitless with two strikeouts and an inning-ending double play in the seventh. Haase battled with Twins reliever Hansel Robles for eight pitches before crushing his fastball to right for the first grand slam of his career.

Haase’s blast tied the game at five runs. The Tigers ended up winning, 6-5, in the 11th inning. (He also hit a seventh-inning home run in Tuesday’s 6-5 loss.)

“I wasn’t really thinking about it being my first career grand slam or anything,” Haase said. “I was just extremely happy for putting us back in a position to win that game, keep it going and give ourselves a fighting chance.”

Hinch added: “He’s a tough kid, man. He can come back from punching out or hitting into a double play or having a bad plate appearance and still be just as threatening the next time up. That short memory, fast twitch actions and crazy power, combine all of that, you have a guy who in any given at-bat can change the scoreboard.”

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Mize, 24, owns a 3.63 ERA, 28 walks and 85 strikeouts over 104 innings in 19 starts.

Baddoo, meanwhile, is hitting .273 entering Thursday with five triples, 10 home runs, 39 RBIs, 29 walks and 75 strikeouts in 81 games. He has 14 stolen bases in 17 attempts, evolving into the Tigers’ leadoff hitter. Before this season, he hadn’t played above High-A Fort Myers in the minor leagues for the Twins.

The Tigers picked Baddoo — left unprotected by the Twins — in December’s Rule 5 draft.

“I think there’s always been a little bit of an inherent cloud of doubt with a Rule 5 pick coming out of A-ball, and how long was he going to be able to sustain his impact?” Hinch said. “He went through a little bit of a power decline in the middle part of the year, around that same time when people were curious about him.

“But he’ll generate plenty of attention moving forward.”

Other AL Rookie of the Year candidates include outfielder Adolis Garcia (Texas Rangers), right-hander Luis Garcia (Houston Astros) and outfielder Randy Arozarena (Tampa Bay Rays).

Making history

Thanks to Haase’s grand slam, the Tigers reached a three historical marks in Tuesday’s win.

For the first time in MLB history, opposing catchers hit grand slams in the same game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Before Haase made his mark in the ninth inning, Twins catcher Mitch Garver belted a grand slam against Tyler Alexander in the first inning. 

The Tigers also recorded game-tying home runs in the ninth inning in consecutive games — Robbie Grossman sent the game to extra innings with his two-run homer Monday — for the first time since Aug. 30-31, 1957. (Back then, the franchise accomplished this feat against Cleveland with both home runs from Charlie Maxwell.)

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Most recently, the Tigers became the fourth team since 2000 to have at least three grand slams by rookies in a season. The team picked up grand slams from outfielder Akil Baddoo (April 5 vs. Twins), catcher Jake Rogers (July 11 vs. Twins) and Haase (Tuesday vs. Twins). 

The other three teams: Toronto Blue Jays with five grand slams from rookies in 2019, Boston Red Sox with three in 2010 and Chicago White Sox with four in 2008.

Schoop scratched

Before Wednesday’s game, the Tigers pulled first baseman Jonathan Schoop from the starting lineup with back soreness. Because Schoop — on a one-year, $4.5 million contract — could generate interest from other teams as the July 30 trade deadline approaches, Hinch issued a warning.

“I know this time of year it always leads to a lot of speculation,” Hinch said. “But there is nothing to speculate about. Sorry to kill your tweet.”

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After Schoop grounded out to end the sixth inning Tuesday, he showed signs of back soreness. Athletic trainer Doug Teter checked on him, but Schoop stayed in the game. Before the 11th inning, when Schoop was set to be the free extra-inning runner on second base, Hinch checked on his health.

Schoop said he wanted to run.

“I knew last night it was barking,” Hinch said. “Early turn this morning, Doug said he was still pretty stiff and suggested we pulled him from the lineup. That’s how it all went down.”

Harold Castro entered Wednesday’s lineup as the first baseman.

Schoop, 29, is hitting .284 with 17 home runs, 60 RBIs, 24 walks and 86 strikeouts over 99 games. His 16-game hitting streak was snapped with an 0-for-5 performance. During those 16 games, the veteran went 23-for-65 (.354) with one homer, 11 RBIs, three walks and 12 strikeouts.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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