Detroit Tigers’ Akil Baddoo hasn’t even scratched the surface. Here are some encouraging signs

Detroit Free Press

Akil Baddoo was upset with himself.

For being sloppy.

After making an error in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to  the Boston Red Sox, he went to manager A.J. Hinch’s office.

“He was frustrated,” Hinch said. “He came to me right after the game and apologized.”

After Rafael Devers singled to center, Baddoo bobbled the ball and Devers advanced to second — a costly mistake because Devers later scored.

SHAWN WINDSOR: What does Akil Baddoo do for encore? Go from surprise to everyday success

“I said, ‘you don’t need to apologize to me, mistakes are gonna happen,’” Hinch said. “I asked him if he knew why, and he did. He had a very good answer as to how that error evolved and he was upset.”

It was just a small moment, but it showed a lot about Baddoo. How much he cares about his defense, an area that he can improve.

How much he hates making mistakes. And how much he cares.

“I love that,” Hinch said. “I mean, I think our guys understand the gravity of all the work that we do and why it matters.”

WATCH THIS: Tigers 1B Spencer Torkelson blasts first career home run

Baddoo has only scratched the surface of his potential. But he’s improving.

If you want to know why I think Baddoo will continue to climb toward his ridiculously high ceiling, and why the player you see right now is not the player you will see at the end of this season much less next year, that apology says it all.

He is focused on improving all areas of his game.

It’s important to remember that he is still a work in progress. He’s still learning that he doesn’t have to have to swing out of his shoes to hit a home. Because he’s crazy strong and that’s enough.

And he’s learning that when he makes a mistake, the root cause probably happened before the mistake.

But man, when he learns those things?

Look out.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: The window is open for the Tigers. Why they must step through it right now

The rubber band man

One year ago, Baddoo was the story of the spring.

A Rule 5 pick, he hit a homer on the first pitch of his MLB career and a grand slam the next day. It was like a Disney movie come to life.

But eventually, the magic melted away and he came back to earth. He started to struggle.

And that’s when he showed he can play in the big leagues.

“He’s a great athlete and a lot of talent,” Tigers outfielder Robbie Grossman said. “At the end of the day, there have been many guys who come up and have storybook starts, and they aren’t playing anymore. They say, ‘it’s hard to get to the big leagues, but it’s even harder to stay.’

“But how Akil went about it and kept growing and staying true to who he is and dance with the girl he brought to the dance, it’s was good to see. It’s something, as an older player, that you really admire in a younger player.”

[ How the Tigers are handling Robbie Grossman’s groin injury ]

How is Baddoo improving?

Here is a cool story about what happens behind the scenes.

Last year, he struggled through August, hitting .200 with no homers in 13 games. So he met with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh.

“I was getting out of my legs a little bit and that was causing me to miss fastballs up high,” Baddoo said.

How could they re-train his body? How could they alter his mechanics?

“We kind of talked about how I can stay in my legs a little bit more, so we came up with a band,” Baddoo said.

He started going through hitting drills with a rubber band tied around his waist, which created resistance and taught him to keep his legs under him. To stay back. To be “anchored,” as he says, “staying in my legs.”

In his first at bat after working with the bands, Sept. 1 against Oakland, Baddoo hit a homer.

“I looked at Cooley and went, ‘Oh, this stuff works,’” Baddoo said. “Yeah, I’m gonna implement that in my everyday routine. I’m gonna still do that. So I did that a lot in the offseason and I’m gonna do more this season as well.”

[ Austin Meadows enjoying Comerica Park: ‘I see the ball well here’ ]

The next step of his development is being more productive against lefties. Last year, he hit .214 against them.

“If we can get him very comfortable on those at bats, it really helps us later in the game,” Hinch said.

Because Hinch wants Baddoo in the game against the dominant right-handed closers.

That is even more important with the state of the Tigers outfield with the injuries to Riley Greene and the uncertainty about Grossman’s groin issue. Simply put, the Tigers need Baddoo in the lineup all the time.

“I tell myself not to get too comfortable and have that same mentality that I had,” Baddoo said. “Same mentality.”

Turning the corner?

Baddoo’s mental approach is the same thing they tell little leaguers: “See ball, hit ball,” Baddoo said. “Simple as that, simplify everything.”

But his swing was getting too big early in the year and he started off 0-10.

He made some adjustments — got his first hit on Tuesday — and it got even better on Wednesday.

Facing Nathan Eovaldi, a pitcher who had limited the Tigers to three hits through the first five innings, Baddoo showed all kinds of fight. He worked an eight-pitch at bat and — see ball, hit ball — he crushed his first home run of the season.

“His pitch selection is getting better,” Hinch said. “I think it’s a matter of him not trying to do too much at the plate. He’s so strong and his bat-to-ball skills is better than what it’s been in the first five games, where he’s gotten really big with his swings. He cut it down. His two-strike homer tells him all he needs to know about how much effort he needs to put into a swing.”

In the seventh inning, he faced lefty Austin Davis. These are the moments Hinch was talking about. They want to be able to keep him in the game against lefties. Baddoo ripped a ball into right field, which was caught by a diving Jackie Bradley Jr.

Then, in the eighth inning, with the bases loaded, he faced another lefty, Jake Diekman. And he struck out.

“I thought he battled Diekman at the end there,” Hinch said. “So that’s one of the tougher assignments that he’s had so far. But again, I think Akil is still learning now. He’s only a year into this and he’ll get more comfortable correcting his anxiousness of wanting to do the big moment in short order.”

But if he can learn those things: get better prepared on defense and improve his pitch selection and don’t swing out of his shoes and just trust his strength.

He could be scary good.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: Here’s why Spencer Torkelson can now exhale and just start ‘hammering’ the ball

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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