It's Akil Baddoo's show, and we're watching

April 7th, 2021

DETROIT -- Most Rule 5 Draft picks don’t do in a season what has done in his first week in the big leagues. And as his early work in the Tigers’ 3-2 loss to the Twins on Wednesday reminded us, his week isn’t over yet. But the adjustments are already coming.

“Akil’s in the middle of everything,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “I mean, his first few games have been about as active as you can get when you’re getting introduced to the big leagues.”

After becoming the first player in modern Major League history to hit a grand slam, another home run and a walk-off hit in his first three career games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Baddoo haunted his old club again Wednesday with more traditional Comerica Park work. His RBI triple opened the scoring in the second inning, then he threw out Andrelton Simmons trying for a double in the third.

Baddoo earned his third start in four days after his 10th-inning single Tuesday beat the Twins, who drafted him out of high school in 2016 and developed him in their system before leaving him exposed to the Rule 5 Draft last December. The 22-year-old’s feats have garnered so much attention that Tigers fans chanted his name as he stepped to the plate against Kenta Maeda on Wednesday. (Even singer-songwriter Erykah Badu -- who shares a surname with Baddoo, sort of -- has taken notice.)

Not surprisingly, Maeda tried to defeat Baddoo’s aggressive approach with changeups. Baddoo fouled off the lone fastball he saw in a five-pitch at-bat, but he adjusted to the offspeed pitch in time to make Maeda pay for leaving a changeup over the plate.

Baddoo’s line drive was softly hit compared to how his last few days have gone, with a 99.7 mph exit velocity, but he couldn’t have placed better if he picked a spot. The ball found the vast open territory in right-center field and rolled towards the out-of-town scoreboard as Baddoo sped around second and Jonathan Schoop strolled home.

“He’s competitive in these at-bats,” Hinch said. “He hung in there with the late-count triple.”

Baddoo was doubled off when Maeda snagged Victor Reyes’ line drive back up the middle, but Baddoo got his revenge in the field when Simmons tested his arm on a line drive down the left-field line.

“I thought he did a good job of getting to the ball in the corner,” Hinch said. “It popped up to him where he didn’t have to do anything but just spin and throw -- and [he] throws a nice one-hopper.”

Baddoo’s throw was right on target for Schoop to make the tag as Simmons slid into second, erasing what would have been a leadoff baserunner for the Twins with the top of the order looming against Tigers starter Matthew Boyd.

“[Coach George] Lombard does an unbelievable job with our outfielders. They practice it. They have a routine,” Hinch said. “Akil’s been very diligent about it, and then it pays off in a real-time game situation.”

The triple was Baddoo’s lone hit of the game. In their second meeting, Maeda followed a first-pitch fastball inside with three consecutive sliders, the last of which Baddoo popped up to third for the first out of the fifth inning. Twins reliever Hansel Robles, who gave up Baddoo’s walk-off single Tuesday, got his payback with two changeups and a slider, all down around the knees -- the last of which turned into a comebacker and an out to open the seventh.

Expect more of that in the games to come.

“Robles, you saw some crafty veteran stuff trying to disrupt his timing [with] the paused delivery, the quick pitch,” Hinch said. “I think a lot of people are going to break out new things to Akil as he gets more comfortable in the big leagues.”