Following a 2020 campaign that saw the Detroit Tigers post a .397 winning percentage, the AJ Hinch-led ballclub looks to be throwing anything and everything against the wall to figure out what sticks. The “Rule 5” draft is where teams can select unprotected minor-league ballplayers from the 29 other clubs and put them immediately on the major league club. The player selected must remain on the club the entire season or be returned to his original club. They can be traded, but if the team that trades for the players opt not to retain the player all year, he still returns to his original club.
The most notable acquisition through this process is the Pirates selection of Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente from the Dodgers. It took Clemente six years on the club to finally make an All-Star team, but his defense made his bat worth the while. Eventually, Clemente became one of the greatest offensive players that the game has ever seen and a cultural icon. Another Rule 5 draft alum is eventual six-time All-Star Jose Bautista, who was picked up by the Orioles and sent to Tampa Bay after sixteen games in Baltimore. After 12 games in St. Pete with the Rays, his contract was purchased by the Royals. They traded him to the Mets, who immediately traded him to Pittsburgh for Ty Wiggington. Jose Bautista was on a Major League roster all year, and thus did not have to be returned. That said, the team that did leave him unprotected in the draft was the Pirates. The biggest Rule 5 pick of the last thirty years came in 1999, when the Marlins left Johan Santana unprotected and he was taken by the Twins having never pitched above A-Ball. In the 2000 season, he put up a 6.49 ERA for the Twins, but because he was on the roster the duration of the 162, they were able to send him back down to the minor-leagues for some seasoning prior to the 2002 season. With the Twins from 2002-2007, Santana posted a 2.92 ERA in 1179 innings of work, winning two Cy Young’s and being selected to three All-Star games.
It’s apropos that what seems to be the next major Rule 5 pick had not previously played higher than A Ball and was taken from within the grips of the Twins organization. The kid’s name is Akil Baddoo, and perhaps he’s been the best story of baseball during the season’s first week. In the Rule 5 draft, teams such as the Tigers who are in a rebuilding phase was immediate needs dig through different players like it’s a proverbial $3.74 Walmart movie bargain bin. Sometimes there are gems, sometimes there are critically hated flicks, but you take a chance on them anyway. For the Tigers, Baddoo exceeded expectations in Spring.
The above clip was the first homerun that Yankees starter Domingo German had given up in Spring Training. Look at the way that German attempts to pitch him in with velocity and Baddoo’s quick hands launch it. A swift and easy swing that protects on the plate with a fluid motion and slight leg kick to generate additional power. It was his fifth homerun of Spring Training, as he went onto post a 1.210 OPS in 50 Spring Training plate appearances, breaking camp with the club as its most potent hitter in his 21 Spring Training games.
This was startling to many around the game, as Baddoo hadn’t seen live pitching since 2019 due to the lack of a minor league season in 2020. Baddoo underwent Tommy John surgery that ended his 2019 campaign in early May. The last live pitching he had seen was with the Twins A+ affiliate in Fort Myers. Baddoo is relatively young in addition to his professional inexperience, at only 22 years of age. At 22, having not seen live pitching in almost two years, he played his way immediately into the Major League’s. While the Tigers throw things against the wall to try and see what will stick, so far, Baddoo has not fallen off of the wall.
This past Sunday, Baddoo made his MLB debut against the Cleveland Indians. Wearing number 60 (having worn 24 in the Minors, as WillIe Mays and Kobe Bryant are his two favorite athletes of all-time), he saw a low fastball on the first pitch. Aaron Civale made a mistake in his wheelhouse and Baddoo launched a ball to the opposite field, going into an immediate frenzy as he knew it was gone off of the bat. Baddoo hit a homerun on the first pitch his saw in The Show. The legend only grew on Monday, as he came to the plate in the ninth inning with the bases loaded against Randy Dobnak, the iconic Uber driver. The result? His first career grand slam. The game? Against the Minnesota Twins, the same team that left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, allowing Detroit to seize his services.
On Tuesday, the legend grew even more at the expense of the Minnesota Twins. Having come into the game as a pinch-runner for Jonathan Schoop earlier in the game, he had his first career appearance off of the bennch, a notoriously difficult thing to do for a hitter, he made it count. With the game tied in extra innings, the Tigers stuck with Baddoo. On a 2-1 count with the winning run on third, he lined a single to right field to win the Tigers the ballgame.
Baddoo has a .500 lifetime batting average in the Majors at the time of this publishing, but that’s only in eight at bats. This pace is absolutely unsustainable. On five batted balls, he’s barreled two of them, a 40% clip early on. That’s a promising sign if he the percentage can remain that high, because it signals that not only does he see the ball well, but the trajectory of the swing would usually find the path of the ball. Baddoo has shown signs of both pull-hitting and opposite field hitting, which if he can continue that would make him difficult to shift on. Pitchers could easily adjust and Baddoo become a below-average player overnight or this could be a legitimate threat at the plate for years to come. Whichever it is, this start to the season makes for a fascinating story. What can’t he Baddoo?
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