DETROIT -- Akil Baddoo finally had his "Welcome to the big leagues" moment. It took an entire Spring Training, a team flight north to Detroit, and a few steps towards the vast outfield at Comerica Park to get there.
“It is really big,” Baddoo said, his eyes widening as he recalled it later Wednesday morning with reporters.
Finally, the thus-far unflappable Baddoo could soak in what he just accomplished over the past six weeks.
“I was just living it up," Baddoo said, "just enjoying every second of it, just taking a deep breath in and realizing, ‘All right, you’re here now. Now, let’s play. You have a job. Let’s take care of business.’”
Twenty-three months and one elbow surgery after Baddoo played his last regular-season game for Class A Advanced Fort Myers in the Twins farm system, the 22-year-old outfielder and the club's No. 24-ranked prospect is on the Tigers’ Opening Day roster. His performance in Spring Training, including five home runs and 10 walks in 21 games, left Detroit with no choice.
It was a roster problem, but a welcome one. It was also a reward for good scouting on limited data. That’s always an issue in the Rule 5 Draft, but more so after a lost Minor League season.
“It was a little bit of a gamble, obviously,” general manager Al Avila said. “Really, the A-ball thing was not the issue. It was that he hadn’t played in two years. Our scouting reports were actually really good in that some of our guys felt that he might be able to handle it, because he was very athletic, very toolsy. And physically, he doesn’t look like your typical A-ball guy that’s a little bit skinnier and needs to grow into his body still.
“The other thing [scouts] told me was that his makeup was really strong and he was a really outgoing, personable guy that went about his business with a lot of self-confidence. Quite frankly, part of the thing about being in the big leagues is feeling that you belong, having no fear.”
Baddoo's confidence came from within. He spent last summer watching videos of Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds, trying to figure out their routines and how they carried themselves on the field. He adapted his diet and his stretch routines to take care of his body.
By midway through camp, he felt good about his chances. Even if he somehow didn’t make the roster, he had proven to be closer to Major League ready than previously thought.
“I was seeing the ball well, and I just told myself: 'Hey, just continue this,'” he said. “'Don’t get too happy. Don’t get too big or anything. Just stay within yourself and continue it.'”
Now that Baddoo has made the Majors, it’s up to him to do what it takes to stay. It’s on the Tigers to put him in a position to do it, as the lone rookie in a five-man outfield.
“I believe in getting him up and running as fast as possible. We’ve got to get a lot of firsts out of the way for him,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He may be a defensive replacement or a baserunner in Game 1. He’s not going to start, but he might be the most critical player that day, if he’s the winning run and he needs to pinch-run for somebody. I am going to get him a first start in the first series and let him take off.
“He’s riding a lot of momentum and a ton of great performance in the spring. I want to continue that and give him an opportunity to capitalize on that good feeling, and also just get the nerves out of the way. He’s earned that, and I look forward to putting him in the lineup.”
There’s a flip side to that. When Baddoo tore up the Grapefruit League, he did it in games where pitchers were often focused on preparing for the regular season. Now that the season is here, pitchers are focused on winning. The more Baddoo plays, the more opponents will pick apart his at-bats and build scouting reports on his tendencies.
Hinch has to pick and choose Baddoo's situations carefully. He also doesn’t want to hide him.
“I’m going to use him,” Hinch said. “We didn’t put him on this roster just to sit back and be the 26th guy and try to ‘carry him’ for the season. We’re going to test him, and the next test is going to be in the big leagues in a real game.”
If it comes on Opening Day, it’ll come with a ton of emotions. His parents, Akilah and John Baddoo, are traveling up from Georgia with his teenage brothers Amir and Hassan to attend the game at Comerica Park.
“There’s a lot of people in my circle that just stuck with me and prayed over me, and are just so ecstatic and happy for me,” Baddoo said.
Said Hinch: “He will not feel the temperature tomorrow. He will be revved up and ready to go.”