Around the Tigers’ farm: Akil Baddoo’s fireworks hint at a hot summer

Detroit News

Last year was, yes, a dream for Akil Baddoo. This year also has been a dream — or, rather, at times a nightmare.

Until this week: 10-for-20 in five games against Louisville heading into Sunday’s contest. Two home runs (Saturday). Two doubles.

That’s more like the Baddoo the Tigers saw a year ago during his Rule 5 unveiling in Detroit.

“He’s real, real close,” said Lloyd McClendon, who manages the Mud Hens. “When we first got him, I said, ‘This kid’s lost his spirit.’ It was just the look in his eye.

“Now, it’s a pleasure to see him come to the ballpark. He’s got that look back. And he’s started to swing.”

After a sour spring with the Tigers, it was decided in May that Baddoo would head for Toledo to retool and gain some previously lost minor-league seasoning.

No surprise, in an overall sense, given Baddoo had been rushed to the big leagues in 2021 (a Rule 5 Draft poaching from the Twins) and thus was obliged to spend all of last season with the Tigers – whether he was ready or not.

He had a big year (13 homers, .766 OPS). But a cruel game, and opposing pitchers, caught up with him this spring. This, remember, was a man who had never played above Single A ahead of the Tigers plucking him from the Twins.

Compounding issues was an oblique that felled him just as he was settling in with the Mud Hens. More stress for a left-handed batter, only 23, who had such punch a season ago.

“He was a little out-of-line,” McClendon said, speaking of Baddoo’s spring check-in. “He was hitting everything to left field. I said to him, ‘Wait a moment — there’s a whole sea out there we can use.’

“Well, he got his alignment back, and now he’s more of a directional hitter, adjusting to using the whole field.”

Among those 10 put-outs against Louisville — separate from his 10 hits in 20 at-bats — was a ball McClendon said had been “smoked” to center field that Louisville’s fleet defender, Lorenzo Cedrola, tracked down.

“It’s good to see him swing the bat again,” McClendon said of Baddoo’s hot streak. “I told him, ‘Stop worrying about the decision-making up there (Detroit). Worry about what you can control. When you get it to where you want it to be, it’ll be like the Red Sea parting. Because you’re the most talented outfielder in this (farm) organization. You’re a very impactful player. ‘We’ve just got to get you going.’”

And, it appears, he is.

Colt Keith’s comeback

Oh, he was flying. June was even better than had been a hot April and May for Colt Keith. In six games for West Michigan, Keith, who doesn’t turn 21 until August, racked up a .381 average, three homers, and 1.353 OPS.

Of course, it was because he had ripped a first-inning single on June 9 that he found himself at first base with left-handed pitcher Hogan Harris working for the Lansing Lugnuts.

Keith got a tight lead, dived for the bag as Harris wheeled a pickoff throw to first, and then felt something in his right shoulder as the tag was applied, hard.

The diagnosis: separation. Keith now is rehabbing at Lakeland, Florida. The Tigers hope a left-handed swinger who was their hottest farm hitter can make it back for West Michigan’s final month.

“I’m ahead of track as far as recovery — probably about two weeks ahead,” Keith said during a Friday phone conversation. “I’m feeling better every day, starting to get into baseball-specific stuff. When I get back, there probably will be at least a month left in the season.”

For the season, Keith’s numbers, as well as his work at third base, hint at a prospect who could start for the Tigers on Opening Day, 2024. He was batting .301 in 48 games for the Whitecaps, with a .370 on-base percentage and .914 OPS. He had nine homers and four stolen bases. He looked as if Double-A Erie might be in 2022’s picture.

And that arm! A one-time shortstop at Biloxi (Mississippi) High who could throw 96, 97 in single-inning relief stints is sticking at third all because he can fire bullets to first.

It simply stings Keith, and the Tigers, that something so quirky happened in June.

“We were looking at his (Harris) move before the game,” Keith recalled. “We talked about it. Our plan was to get off the base early and get some space between the bag before he stepped off.

“I got two shuffle-steps, he stepped off and threw over, and I just dove. It wasn’t an awkward slide. It was just a freak accident. The way I was touching the base created a perfect little fulcrum for the shoulder to separate.

“I was safe by a mile, but as soon as he (Tyler Soderstrom) applied the tag — wham — it just felt kind of weird. It didn’t really hurt that much, it just felt really weird.

“When I got up, there was no pain really at all. I just knew something wasn’t right, so I go to the trainer, and they took me out.

“It was just a freak thing they (trainers) said they hadn’t seen before.”

Ryan Garko, the Tigers’ player development head, was careful about forecasts but acknowledged Keith could be back later this summer.

“That’s definitely not off the table,” Garko said. “But it’s a separated shoulder on his right arm, and since he hits left-handed, we’ll have to rebuild strength there.”

Keith was a fifth-round pick in 2020 as the Tigers lured him from his Arizona State scholarship. He is 6-foot-3, 211 pounds.

“Either way, if I get back or not, I’m happy how I performed this year,” Keith said. “It really sets me up for next year. I gained a lot of confidence, learned how to hit with power, and also kept my average up.

“In my mind,” he said, referring to home runs and stolen bases, “I’m preparing for a 25/20 career.”

So, in fact, are the Tigers.

More: Tigers at trade deadline: Toledo has bullpen help

Petit — not petite

OK, he’s heard that one before, a few too many million times, the play on words regarding his name when RJ Petit is 6-foot-8 and somewhere in the vicinity of 300 pounds.

What matters is his right-handed pitching prowess. And it’s worth monitoring.

Petit was drafted by the Tigers last July, 14th round, out of Charleston Southern University in, yes, Charleston, South Carolina.

What the Tigers were getting was a big man with, in their view, big upside. And doggone if that yet isn’t the profile as he on most days and nights in 2022 has been besting batters — first at low-A Lakeland and now at high-A West Michigan.

Petit since being shipped to the Whitecaps has been on the same general arc he crafted at Lakeland when in nine games (12.1 innings) he allowed nine hits, walked four and struck out 16.

Heading into Sunday, Petit had pitched in 16 games for the Whitecaps, with a 3.06 ERA, and less-pleasing WHIP of 1.36.

A couple of explanations there:

There have been too many walks (eight unintentional) in those 17.2 innings at West Michigan. Also, 15 hits, with 23 strikeouts maybe the stat most worth considering.

Also, much of his statistical damage came in one game, June 24, at Cedar Rapids when he was socked for four runs on four hits in two-thirds of an inning. Otherwise, note the numbers in seven other games since he arrived at Comstock Park: 8.2 innings, two singles, three walks, 10 whiffs.

“He’s going to be formidable,” said Dean Stiles, pitching coach at West Michigan, explaining that early this season Petit was having the same challenge faced by billboard right-hander (and 32nd-overall pick in 2021), Ty Madden.

“The biggest thing was commanding the strike-zone and driving that fastball down, early in the count.

“He’s got a real good slider, and we’ve been pushing him to use his change-up off that fastball,” Stiles said, speaking specifically of Petit, whose heater runs as high as 95. “When he came up (West Michigan) the challenge was to up his strikeout-percentage. He took a little damage. But he’s done what we’ve asked him to and his percentage of fastballs has climbed into the high 60s and now low 70s, and his first-pitch strike percentage in general has improved.”

Big pitchers — truly big, truly tall — often can have issues harnessing all that physiology.

But there’s a reason Petit already has jumped to high-A ball not even a year after last summer’s draft.

“He’s flourishing in terms of taking off and developing,” Stiles said. “He’s growing in confidence. He’s obviously a giant kid. But, you know, he’s trimmed down a bit. He did an awful lot of work during the offseason, devoting time to nutrition and to the weight room.

“He’s really developing mound-presence.”

On the mend

► Ryan Kreidler, third base/second base, Triple A Toledo: Kreidler made it back in rapid fashion from the fractured hand that cost him nearly three weeks in May. But a groin strain has temporarily shelved him. He is expected back, soon, in McClendon’s order.

Joey Wentz, left-handed starter, Toledo: Wentz, who had a couple of spot-starts with the Tigers, has been gone for the past month with left-shoulder inflammation.

“We’re working through it and making sure we have that under control before beginning throwing,” Garko said.

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

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