Outfielder Akil Baddoo returns to 2021 form — only better — to help surging Detroit Tigers

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers outfielder Akil Baddoo didn’t miss a mistake from Chicago White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease, who finished second in American League Cy Young voting last season, in the third inning of Sunday’s 6-5 win.

He punished an up-and-in fastball, which was supposed to be located on the outside part of the plate, for a grand slam and watched the ball fly with confidence. His second-career grand slam helped the Tigers win three of four games in the series and continue their winning ways.

“Just sticking with my game plan,” Baddoo said.

The Tigers have a 15-11 record in May, and Baddoo has a .887 OPS during the month.

“He’s growing up,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s being himself. He’s relaxed. He’s letting his athleticism show, which is nice. I think his defense has gotten better. He’s just growing up. Letting him succeed, letting him fail, letting him learn, letting him apply his talent has really benefited him and us.”

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Back in the 2022 season, Baddoo — once known for inconsistent defense in the outfield — misplayed a ball at Target Field against the Minnesota Twins. When he returned to the dugout, he had a conversation with bench coach George Lombard.

“What do you want to do in this game?” Lombard asked Baddoo.

“I want to be good,” Baddoo responded. “No, I want to be great.”

Lombard, who also works as the outfield instructor, told Baddoo he needed to “put the work in” if he wanted to be great. Baddoo finished last season worth plus-8 defensive runs saved in left field, and this season, he is already worth plus-3 defensive runs saved in left field.

“I think he’s taken that to heart,” Lombard said Friday, after filling in for Hinch as the manager. “Maybe not just from me, but all the work that A.J. has challenged him with, and he’s really worked hard.”

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On offense, Baddoo has returned to his 2021 form — only better. He is drawing walks, stealing bases and hammering home runs. The 24-year-old, in his third MLB campaign, is hitting .261 with three homers, 20 walks (14.3% walk rate) and 28 strikeouts (20% strikeout rate) in 42 games this season.

His walk and strikeout rates are the best marks in his career.

His plate discipline has been elite.

“Just staying mentally strong and sticking with my game plan,” Baddoo said. “I’m relying on my coaches and the veteran players, just picking their brain, staying consistent and riding the roller coaster.”

Baddoo has a .292 batting average with 11 walks and 11 strikeouts in 23 games in May. That included a stretch from May 14-29 with a .316 batting average with 10 walks and five strikeouts in 14 games, plus all three of his home runs this season. Before then, he hadn’t hit a homer since Sept. 20, 2022, a span of 149 plate appearances.

But he just hit three homers in a span of 35 plate appearances.

“It’s kind of been the same game plan,” Baddoo said. “I’ve always had the same thought process when I go up to the plate. I’m just being a little more consistent and playing a lot. That’s really what it is. I feel good.”

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His performance in May ranks third amongst the Tigers with that .913 OPS trailing only center fielder Riley Greene (1.088) and infielder Zach McKinstry (.893).

The resurgence of Baddoo, a game-changing former Rule 5 draft pick with skills galore, is one of the main reasons why the Tigers are surging through May after a rough start to the season.

And the Tigers need Baddoo to maintain his production moving forward.

“The more anxious you get, the worse it will be for you,” Baddoo said of snapping his home-run drought May 19 against the Washington Nationals. “I just stayed relaxed, knowing it will come, and eventually it did.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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