Does Detroit Tigers’ Akil Baddoo have Cedric Mullins-like potential? AJ Hinch thinks so

Detroit Free Press

Before Thursday, Akil Baddoo and Cedric Mullins hadn’t stood face-to-face in one year.

But they text and talk on the phone, even connecting via FaceTime when Baddoo launched a home run on the first pitch he saw in his first MLB at-bat. They have known each other for about seven years, thanks to their travel baseball team in Atlanta.

“Growing up with him and seeing how he goes about baseball, he just plays 110% every day,” Baddoo said. “He’s somebody I always looked up to, so it’s always fun to play against him and see us at the highest level competing. It’s just a beautiful thing.”

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From Thursday through Sunday, Baddoo and Mullins clashed in the big leagues. They spoke on the field about baseball and life before the series opener at Comerica Park. Baddoo, 22, is a Rookie of the Year candidate for the Detroit Tigers after being selected in December’s Rule 5 draft; Mullins, 26, just made his first All-Star Game appearance, representing the Baltimore Orioles at Coors Field in Denver.

Baddoo believes his relationship with Mullins has helped him throughout his debut season.

“I always want to be my own person, but it’s just having someone to look up to and having someone to talk to about the game, “Baddoo said. “He’s been there, and he’s doing it right now. It’s always good to go to him for advice so I can translate that over to my career and do the same kind of things.”

Across 85 games, Baddoo is hitting .269 with 17 doubles, five triples, 10 home runs, 41 RBIs, 31 walks and 78 strikeouts. He has stolen 14 bases in 18 attempts, a testament to his speed and instincts. He is still learning the outfield, especially center field, but he possesses all the necessary tools for a Mullins-esque future.

Baddoo also earned his way into the leadoff spot in the Tigers’ lineup. He has made 39 starts in center, 30 starts in left field and three in right field. Entering this year, Baddoo hadn’t taken the field above the High-A level in the minors.

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“I’m enjoying it,” Baddoo said. “There are a lot of ups and downs in baseball, but I’m glad I’m here in the leadoff spot. I’m learning as much as I can and producing. That’s the biggest thing, just having fun, learning as much as I can and doing what I know best.”

Recently, manager AJ Hinch has trusted Baddoo — a left-handed hitter — against left-handed pitchers. Earlier in the season, Baddoo often wouldn’t play against lefties or wouldn’t be at the top of the batting order.

“It’s just another adjustment that I’m currently making,” Baddoo said. “Being able to play against lefties is giving me an opportunity to have more at-bats against lefties. It’s allowing me to be a little bit more comfortable, and you’re seeing that translate on the field.”

For the Orioles, Mullins is hitting .321 with 28 doubles, four triples, 17 home runs, 36 RBIs, 38 walks and 79 strikeouts. He also has speed, succeeding on 18 of 25 stolen base attempts. And Mullins is Baltimore’s undisputed leadoff hitter and center fielder.

In some ways, Baddoo and Mullins are quite similar.

And Hinch appreciates Baddoo for leaning on Mullins and other players outside the Tigers’ organization.

“Akil should look right across the field and see exactly the type of potential he has at this level,” Hinch said. “Mullins has developed into an All-Star player. He demonstrates that nightly. He’s a threat, he plays good defense, he’s got energy, he runs the bases, he conceded power yesterday for a couple base hits to left field. He is an all-around player.

“Akil has got some friends around the league that are already established. Hopefully, he can take bits and pieces from everybody that he has connections to, and certainly profiles like, and add to his game.”

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Short’s slump

Rookie shortstop Zack Short is hitting .167 with five home runs, 15 RBIs, 16 walks and 40 strikeouts in 34 games. His inconsistencies — a product of having a high launch angle when he swings the bat — revolve around striking out too much.

The all-or-nothing approach needs to change, so Short has worked closely with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and assistant hitting coach Mike Hessman. The 26-year-old is 2-for-23 (.087) with one walk and eight strikeouts in his past eight games.

“It’s not a quick fix overnight that he’s going to have a flatter swing and produce more consistent contact,” Hinch said. “They’ve done some drill work, you’ll see some glimpses of it, and then he reverts back to old habits and has some tough at-bats. … He’s got a ton of power. He might have too much power for his own good, but we’ll keep working with him and try to make subtle adjustments along the way as we navigate this.”

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Defensively, however, Short has been a massive upgrade for the Tigers at shortstop over Niko Goodrum, Willi Castro and Harold Castro. He has one error in 135 chances, giving him a .993 fielding percentage.

Keeping his offensive troubles separated from his stellar defense has kept him in the big leagues.

“The defense has been very good,” Hinch said. “We’re a better team with him here and contributing, but it’s a fine line between needing to make some adjustments yet still getting the opportunity here.”

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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