It’s obvious the Detroit Tigers need to keep Akil Baddoo.
Spring training stats don’t matter, and performances can be incredibly misleading, but it’s clear the Detroit Tigers need to find a way to keep their Rule 5 pick Akil Baddoo.
If you are unfamiliar with the roster implications regarding Rule 5 picks you can read all about them here. Mostly you just need to know the Detroit Tigers must keep Akil Baddoo on their 26-man roster for the whole 2021 season, and he must be active (not on the Injured List) for at least 90 days.
Keeping Akil Baddoo seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago, because Tommy John surgery in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic have limited him to just 29 games above the Low-A level, and none at Double-A.
It’s rare for teams to use their Rule 5 picks on position players who haven’t reached Double-A, and rarer still for those players to stick on an MLB roster all year. But it isn’t unprecedented. In 2017 the San Diego Padres actually did it twice (Luis Torrens and Allen Córdoba) and the Orioles did it in 2016 with Anthony Santander.
But let’s talk about why the Detroit Tigers need to keep Akil Baddoo, and the various options they have to make it work.
Why Keep Akil Baddoo?
This is where we have to give kudos to the Detroit Tigers scouts who identified Akil Baddoo as a target despite his lack of experience. Baddoo has looked remarkably comfortable in the batter’s box, and he’s flashing plus tools while showing some of the best plate discipline in camp.
Willi Castro is the only Tigers hitter with as many hard-hit balls (95 MPH+ exit velocity) as Akil Baddoo, and no one on the team has drawn as many walks as Baddoo. He’s also one of the fastest players in camp:
"Baddoo’s sprint from home to first on a bouncing ball to shortstop on March 1 against the Yankees was the third-fastest measured by Statcast this spring and tops among prospects…To put the 4.05 into better context, it was between the average run times established by noted speedsters and fellow left-handed hitters Shohei Ohtani (4.04) and Kevin Kiermaier (4.06). Furthermore, Baddoo’s sprint speed on the play was 30.3 ft/s, a smidge above the elite threshold of 30 ft/s."
So just to recap here, Akil Baddoo is a plus-plus runner with an advanced approach at the plate, the ability to play all three outfield spots pretty well, and plus raw power. That’s the sort of player you move mountains to keep.
Baddoo will have some issues adjusting to the MLB level. He hasn’t made contact with a breaking ball this spring, and there are some signs he may not hit with the launch angle needed to fully capitalize on his strong exit velocities. But he has the approach to survive, and the tools to eventually excel.
So how do the Detroit Tigers keep him?
Akil Baddoo Option One – Make a Trade with Minnesota
This is the most ideal option, as it would mean Baddoo could head to Double-A Erie or Triple-A Toledo to continue to hone his craft. Unfortunately, there’s almost no chance this will happen. For the Tigers to make a trade for Baddoo, he would first have to clear waivers — meaning any other MLB team could claim him and assume his Rule 5 obligations. All those pluses we listed above? You better believe other teams have noticed, and there are probably a half-dozen clubs that would jump at the chance to land Baddoo now.
Akil Baddoo Option Two – Trade JaCoby Jones
This option isn’t terribly ideal, as the Tigers are probably still hoping they can get a full season of production from JaCoby Jones, and his trade value isn’t particularly high given his age, injury issues, and dwindling years of team control. Baseball Trade Values pegs his value at 0.7, which is lower than Christin Stewart. There would probably be suitors, but the return might not justify making a trade.
Akil Baddoo Option Three – Cut Nomar Mazara
This seems awfully unlikely. Mazara is only owed $1.75 million (less than Jones), he’s coming off a terrible season, and has never produced an above-average overall offensive season, but he’s still just 25 and he has tremendous raw power. If the Tigers can find a way to get him to hit more balls in the air he could easily hit 30+ home runs. He’s a good gamble for a team like Detroit, and it would be short-sighted to cut him.
Akil Baddoo Option Four – Send Victor Reyes to Toledo
This option seems pretty unfair to Victor Reyes, who has turned himself into a decent 4th outfielder. He may still have some upside, but at this point we know he’s an aggressive hitter who won’t walk much and probably won’t hit for a lot of power. He provides value on defense and the basepaths, but players like him often find themselves moving back and forth between Triple-A and the Majors. Crucially, Reyes still has minor-league options. The Tigers can send him to Toledo without fear of losing him, and then in 2022 he and Baddoo can both spend time in the Majors.
Akil Baddoo Option Five – Just Make Room
Let’s not make this too complicated. If the Detroit Tigers really want to keep Akil Baddoo — and they should — there are a lot of ways to configure the big-league roster to make it happen. Yes, it would be difficult while trying to break in pitching prospects and find enough innings to cover 100 extra games this year, but A.J. Hinch is a big boy and he can figure it out. The Tigers could simply run with five outfielders, or take advantage of off days to stick with a classic five-man rotation. Or they could just keep that caravan from Toledo to Detroit busy, strategically swapping out position players and pitchers to keep everyone fresh.