Tigers select Baddoo, lose Vest in Rule 5

December 10th, 2020

hasn’t played in a game in nearly two years thanks to Tommy John surgery in 2019 and the coronavirus pandemic in '20. He has yet to play above Class A ball. If all goes to plan, his next game will be in a Tigers uniform, roaming the vast outfield gaps of Comerica Park.

The Tigers continued their search for athleticism and long-term upside to add to their organization when they selected Baddoo with the third pick of the Major League phase of Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. The 22-year-old outfielder, who was with the Twins' organization, will report to Spring Training in Lakeland, Fla., vying to make Detroit’s 26-man roster.

The Rule 5 Draft each December allows teams to add young talent by plucking prospects who aren’t on other organizations’ 40-man rosters. Under the current format, players first signed at age 18 or younger must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons, or they become eligible to be selected. Players signed at age 19 or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $100,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn't stay on the 26-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000.

The Tigers have usually looked for long-term potential over short-term fit in the Rule 5 Draft since their youth movement began in 2017, when they used the first overall pick on athletic outfielder . Three years later, Reyes is now a key part of Detroit’s outfield. Baddoo, who now ranks No. 25 on the Tigers' Top 30 Prospects list, has a similar skillset but less experience. If the left-handed hitter can follow a similar long-term development path, the Tigers would be happy.

“Akil had standout tools when he signed out of high school, and we’ve definitely seen them on display during his time in professional baseball,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said in a statement. “We’ve seen the power, speed and defense from him, and are excited for him to work with our coaching staff. He’s got the rare athletic ability to be a high-level defender in the outfield and really impact the ball from the left side of the plate, and we look forward to him showing it this coming season.”

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Baddoo was ranked as the No. 13 prospect in the Twins' system, according to MLB Pipeline. That tied him for the highest-ranked prospect drafted, along with right-hander Jose Soriano (Angels), who was selected by the Pirates with the first overall pick.

Baddoo hit .323 (65-for-201) with a .964 OPS in 53 games at the Rookie League level in 2017, all while playing center field. A year later, he compiled 22 doubles, 11 triples, 11 homers and 24 stolen bases with a .770 OPS and a 121 wRC+ at Class A Cedar Rapids. While his .243 average was low, his 74 walks resulted in a .351 on-base percentage.

The momentum from that 2018 season stalled when Baddoo sustained an elbow injury early in 2019. He underwent Tommy John surgery that May. He would’ve been ready to play this year had there been a Minor League season.

Though Detroit could have opted for a hard-throwing reliever to help cover innings this upcoming season, Baddoo’s combination of power and speed as well as ability to cover ground in center field proved too much for the organization to pass up. One evaluator suggested he could eventually fit in a lineup for a team trying to rebuild.

The Tigers cleared a 40-man roster spot for the Rule 5 Draft on Monday, when the Blue Jays claimed reliever on waivers.

While the Tigers have been near-annual participants in the Rule 5 Draft, they hadn’t lost a player in it since 2011. That changed Thursday, when the Mariners selected hard-throwing reliever Will Vest. The Tigers left him off their 40-man roster after he pitched at three levels in 2019, topping out at Triple-A Toledo. The former 12th-round Draft pick posted a 3-5 record with a 3.27 ERA and eight saves between Toledo, Double-A Erie and Class A Advanced Lakeland, striking out 58 batters over 55 innings. He spent part of this past season at the Tigers’ alternate training site in Toledo, Ohio, before taking part in the instructional league in Florida.

While losing Vest hurts the Tigers’ relief depth, their first Rule 5 Draft loss in nearly a decade is also a sign of how far their farm system has progressed. Detroit valued Vest but didn’t have room on its 40-man roster, adding fellow relief prospect instead.

The Tigers went for pitching depth in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, selecting right-handed reliever Yunior Perez from the Cubs. The 21-year-old struck out 30 batters with 21 walks and a 4.73 ERA over 26 2/3 innings in 2019 at Class A Eugene, his first full-season stop.