If there's one unique aspect to Spring Training that I enjoy above everything else, it's getting acquainted with some of the unsung heroes within my favorite team's farm system. These players are rarely the most talked about in everyday conversation, heck, sometimes they are all but unknown to most of us. But by the end of March, we can't get enough of watching pundits debate whether or not said player has done enough to warrant play time in the majors. This very discussion is just starting to happen in Detroit, as center fielder Akil Baddoo has turned more than a few heads this spring.
As of March 15th, Baddoo is slashing .400/.556/.800 over 27 plate appearances. He's smacked two home runs, including one that was absolutely clobbered against the Phillies, and perhaps most impressively, he's walked seven times. Baddoo has also done well while on the base paths. One of the most circulated videos of him this spring shows the 22-year-old sprint to first base in only 4.05 seconds. If he had averaged that speed during the 2020 season, he would've been the third quickest center fielder in the league, behind only Minnesota's Byron Buxton (4.03) and Philladelphia's Roman Quinn (3.94).
A noticeable amount of the momentum surrounding Baddoo has been accelerated by Tigers manager AJ Hinch, who applauded the youngster this week as someone who "wants to be a big leaguer, and...wants to be a big leaguer now." While he came into spring as he 25th rated prospect within the Tigers' farm system, he has played so well that Hinch later admitted that Baddoo had created a "welcome(d) problem" as he attempts to compile a regular season roster for Opening Day.
One thing that might help Akil Baddoo's case for selection is that he was acquired by the Tigers during the 2020 Rule 5 Draft back in December. For those of you who don't know, the Rule 5 Draft is an annual event where teams can sign players from other clubs for $100,000 so that they can fill out the rest of their 40-man roster. The catch to this is that if a team elects to keep the player for the season following the draft, that player must remain on the squad's major league roster for the year. If the team decides to not keep the player, they must first contact the team they took the player from, and offer him for half of the initial payment.
Some former players who've been taken in past Rule 5 Drafts include Josh Hamilton, Johan Santana, and the legendary Roberto Clemente.
Baddoo was placed as a potential Rule 5 acquisition in 2020 thanks largely to his recent struggles just to play at the time. Back in May of 2019, Baddoo underwent Tommy John Surgery to repair the elbow on his throwing arm. If his recovery hadn't already put a wrench into his future plans with the Twins, the subsequent cancellation of the Minor League season in 2020 definitely did. And even though he was thought of as a strong potential talent, all these consecutive delays all but destroyed his opportunity to stay in the Twin Cities.
Luckily, it seems that his injury issues are behind him (knock on wood), and he can finally kick start his career again, this time with another club in the AL Central. However, even though there are some strong reasons why he should suit up for Detroit on April 1st, the decision is not so cut and dry.
That's because around the same time the Tigers picked up Baddoo, they also dipped into Free Agency and brought in two more outfielders in Robbie Grossman and Nomar Mazara, both of whom have proven to be pretty reliable major leaguers in their own right. If nothing else, both players totally eclipse Baddoo in terms of seniority; Grossman has played for eight seasons, while Mazara has played five, and that alone might tilt the balance toward them.
If the Tigers want to keep Baddoo, they're going to have to make concessions someplace else. Fellow outfielders Jacoby Jones and Victor Reyes might find their play time chopped up if only to give Baddoo a few regular season opportunities. Additionally, they'll also need to be more selective about which backup infielders they can hold. It's very rare to see a ball club have five outfielders in this day and age, however if the Tigers want to keep Baddoo, they might have to do just that.
Regardless of what they do decide, these past few weeks have been eye-opening for a lot of baseball fans. While most of us were really only playing attention to the Tigers this spring because of Spencer Torkelson, who we're all waiting to see break out, watching the ascension of this relative unknown has been a sight to see. While the Tigers are almost certainly not contenders in any way this year, making sure they lock up Baddoo could help kickstart their own ascent sooner than they imagined.
Featured Image - DetroitNews.com
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Also wanted to give a shoutout to absolute legend @FlexFulton on Reddit for fact checking me about Spencer Torkelson. You're a lifesaver, bud.