From Rule 5 Pick to Ruling the AL: The Rapid Rise of Akil Baddoo
We take a look at the story and the numbers behind the Detroit Tigers rookie’s historic start in his MLB debut.
Akil Baddoo is the fun name on everyone’s lips in Detroit.
He’s shattered records from his very first pitch in MLB this month amid an incredible rise from unheralded Rule 5 pick to one of the biggest sensations in baseball.
The 22-year-old Detroit Tigers outfielder is already the first player in modern baseball history (dating back to 1901) to hit a grand slam, another home run and a walk-off hit in his first three career games.
But Baddoo’s story is one of perseverance. Let’s rewind back to May 2019 when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. And if sitting out the 2019 campaign was not bad enough, Baddoo also had his 2020 season taken away when the minor leagues were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The winter’s Rule 5 draft in December proved to be a fateful event for Baddoo, who was taken by the Tigers after he was initially drafted out of high school by the Minnesota Twins in 2016. The Rule 5 draft aims to prevent franchises from stockpiling too many young players on their minor league affiliates when other clubs would be prepared to play them in the majors. If chosen, a player must be kept on the selecting team’s big-league roster for the entire season.
“If you think about it, he’s gone through so much,” Baddoo’s mother Akilah said during a TV interview. “And then this opportunity came, and it was like, ‘This can’t be a joke. There’s a plan for you. You got to know that.'”
In the least likely of places, the Tigers appear to have landed a gem. Baddoo is making the most of his opportunity and has immediately become a cult hero in Detroit.
Baddoo had 233 career minor leagues games to his name, but none above Class A when he earned a place on the Opening Day roster after hitting .325 in spring training with five home runs. However, the Maryland native looked like a man ready for the big stage.
In his first at-bat on April 4, Baddoo homered to left field in the bottom of the third inning against the Cleveland Indians in a memorable debut with the Tigers. He became the ninth player in Tigers franchise history to hit a home run in his first major league at-bat and only the second to do so on the first pitch after George Vico in 1948.
“I’m just living in the moment,” Baddoo said told reporters after the game. “I got a good pitch to hit, and I was able to hit it in front of my family and everyone.”
If that was not enough, Baddoo continued the fairy-tale week by hitting his first career grand slam against the Twins the following day. He became the first Tiger to homer in each of his first two major league games and the first player in baseball history to homer out of the ninth spot of the batting order in his first two career games. Baddoo was also the first player in franchise history to hit a slam within his first two games.
Baddoo then delivered a walk-off shot to sink his old team the Twins 24 hours later, becoming the first Tiger with a walk-off shot within his first three big-league contests since 1998.
After going 5 for 11 with two home runs, two doubles and four RBIs in his last three games, Baddoo is hitting .370 (10 for 27) with four home runs, two doubles, a triple and 11 RBIs in nine games entering Thursday’s action. Among those with at least 25 plate appearances, he’s fifth in the majors in BIP+ at 289 and seventh in raw value+ at 213.
He’s only the second player in franchise history to drive in at least one run in seven of his first nine career games with the other being Dale Alexander in 1929 and in MLB history, only Brooklyn’s George Shuba had more games with an RBI (eight) in his first nine in 1920.
The center fielder is also one of only four players to have 11-plus RBIs and a .900-plus slugging percentage over his first nine career games, along with Trevor Story (13/.974 in 2016), Taylor Teagarden (12/1.000 in 2008) and Dave Kingman (11/1.105 in 1971).
“Obviously he has the talent to do a lot of different things, I knew he’d give me everything he’s got,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch has said previously. “That was evident from the beginning.”
Research support provided by Sam Hovland and Jacob Jaffe.