‘You’re in my way’: Baddoo recounts wild trip around the bases 

Detroit Tigers

LAKELAND, Fla. — Akil Baddoo had such a jump from first base that the ground ball from Andy Ibañez was well behind him as he reached second base. He knew the ball was in play, so he didn’t slide. He just didn’t know where it ended up, which is why he took a quick step back to first before finding the ball.

“I looked up the wrong way,” Baddoo said.

Baddoo still had time to correct himself and take off for third as Braves right fielder Magneuris Sierra gathered the ball and threw. Baddoo didn’t anticipate the throw coming in behind him, but third baseman Mitchell Tolman did, trying to reach around Baddoo to gather the ball. Tolman couldn’t get it, but as he turned around to find the ball, he was on top of Baddoo, who was still somehow standing with a 195-pound infielder on his back.

“It was an adventure around the bases,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said, “but [in] most physical interactions, I’m going to take Akil. He’s pretty strong.”

It could have been an injury waiting to happen. Instead, it became a highlight. Baddoo shook off Tolman like a kid shrugging off his backpack as he took off for home and scored on the error.

“I didn’t even check to make sure the man was OK, because I kind of lifted him up,” Baddoo said. “I was like, ‘Yo, I’m sorry, bro, but you’re in my way. I’ve got to get this run.’ That’s my job, to get these runs.’”

Said Hinch: “Part of Akil’s charm on the field is he just creates havoc, and that was another good example.”

It sounds funny, but Hinch is right. The way Detroit’s roster lines up, and the way baseball’s new rules encourage aggressiveness on the basepaths, this is Baddoo’s role. If he’s going to make the team for Opening Day, he needs to be a baserunner and a catalyst. It’s a far cry from the role of slugging sensation that he filled two years ago as a relatively unknown prospect out of the Twins’ system — who became arguably the most successful Rule 5 Draft pick in Tigers history.

Yet it speaks to Baddoo’s immense ability that he can fill this role just as well as his previous one.

“It sets up my strengths,” Baddoo said. “I’ve always been a guy to score runs, get on base. So I feel like these new rules are really good for me. I’m looking forward to it.”

The competition could come down to the final days of camp this weekend. Neither player sounds overly stressed.

“I always tell people I always compete for a job, no matter if I have one,” Baddoo said. “Always battling, always staying strong and giving it my all, just controlling the things I can control. That’s the biggest thing for me. Wherever they put me, that’s where I’ll be.”

Other than being left-handed hitters and outfielders, there isn’t much overlap in their games. Carpenter hits, but mainly for power. Baddoo has also hit at times in his career and looked good at the plate early in camp, but he’s more athletic — a better runner and a better defender. He even added a strong throw from right field later Wednesday. Both are playing to their strengths this spring.

Though Baddoo ended Wednesday batting .225 (9-for-40) with 13 strikeouts in Grapefruit League play, he has added four walks, two homers and three stolen bases in four attempts. He has shown improvement defensively from last year.

“He put the effort in, and [bench coach] George [Lombard] and [outfield instructor] Arnie Beyeler in the Minor Leagues have done things with him defensively,” Hinch said. “He’s much more confident attacking the ball, so you’ll see him get to balls faster. You’ll see him being able to get in a position to throw. His throws have gotten better. His jumps off the ball have been better this spring. He’s taken almost non-measurable things that you don’t notice in a play until you notice them late.

“It’s been an accumulation of work. It doesn’t happen just by telling him. He’s done a lot of work to put himself in a better position.”

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