Healthy again, Tigers’ Akil Baddoo works to get back on track in Toledo

Detroit News

One year ago, before so much changed across Detroit’s baseball terrain, Akil Baddoo was playing for the Tigers and driving a born-again MLB team.

He was batting .262, with five home runs, a .350 on-base average, and .839 OPS. A rookie the Tigers had all but stolen from the Twins was a fan darling. And so were the Tigers as they and their new skipper, AJ Hinch, shook off a bad April and turned into one of baseball’s hottest 2021 revival stories.

Baddoo is an outfielder who now works at Triple-A Toledo. He has played in all of 10 games for the Mud Hens after one of those miserable oblique injuries tore into his spring. He is batting .184, with a .596 OPS, although he did rip a RBI triple and draw a walk in Saturday’s 2-1 triumph at Worcester.

He is having a year as traumatic as the team for which he played in 2022. The Tigers, also with poor numbers, and with injuries a seeming daily event, are most days enduring a nightmare.

Worse for Baddoo, an ugly early spring on the big-league club (.140 batting average, .438 OPS) sent him to Toledo in May for restoration work. Then, the oblique.

Maybe this was essential, apart from injuries, this 2022 crucible. Baddoo is only 23. He never played above Single A when the Tigers nabbed him in the 2020 Rule 5 draft, which mandated a full year on the big-league team if the Tigers intended to keep him in Detroit and away from the Twins.

He never was allowed a typical minor-league progression. That became doubly, and triply true, when Baddoo missed 2019 with Tommy John surgery and 2020 because of minor-league baseball’s shutdown due to COVID.

“It’s a valid point,” said Ryan Garko, who heads player development for the Tigers, and who agrees Baddoo now is getting seasoning he missed — spanning years. “The Rule 5 draft is a great way to find talented young players. But some of the development process does get skipped.

“It’s funny. I was just there (Toledo) talking with (Mud Hens manager) Lloyd McClendon who mentioned, and he was right, that this is a very young player. He had a lot of success last year, and all of his tools are still present. He’s a major-leaguer playing on a Triple-A field. He moves at a different speed from everybody else.”

Garko was referring there to Baddoo’s higher-end skills and execution. It’s now a matter of getting that left-handed bat to settle and become the weapon it was in 2021.

“Everybody has a different opinion about how many at-bats a player needs in the minors,” said Garko said, who knows Baddoo has had 924 official at-bats on the farm in a bit more than four seasons. “But, no matter how many it takes, Akil didn’t get those.”

Now that the oblique has calmed down, 2022 pretty much begins. So do some high-intensity sessions with Mud Hens hitting coach Adam Melhuse.

“Some swing things,” Garko said of Melhuse’s seminars. “He (Baddoo) would be the first to tell you that there were things he needed to work on. And not just his swing, but his whole approach — the strike zone and how he’s being pitched.

“We’re just making sure that he does the things that made himself so successful last year: He used the whole field. He could grind out an at-bat against anybody, right-hander or left-hander. When he went into those at-bats, he went in with the mindset that he was going to do whatever it took to get on base.”

The commitment is still there, Garko said, in full fury. What was said about Baddoo last season — that he listened, he studied, he sweated to become better — is said again in 2022 by the man who is in his first year as Tigers player-development steward:

“The attitude is unbelievably good. He wants to work, he runs the bases hard, he’s a great teammate.”

But disposition can’t always override experience.

Garko says pitchers put together a blueprint on Baddoo based on 2021’s studies. Getting him to chase, finding a hole or two in his swing-radius — this is what happens in baseball.

“There’s a scouting report on him, and this is always a game of adjustments,” Garko said. “So, we’re working on some small things: where the bat is at launch, his load, his timing, slowing down some of the movement.”

First things first. The oblique finally has calmed down and Baddoo can swing with his old fluidity.

Next — if health holds up — comes a long, sustained stretch of playing games and getting those at-bats he has missed since signing with the Twins in 2017, when he was only 17.

“I have full confidence that this (Toledo) is where he needs to be, right now,” Garko said. “He’s such a pro the way he’s handled everything.

“And I still think he has a very bright future.”

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.

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