Akil Baddoo came out of nowhere to become one of the biggest breakout stars in the opening days of the MLB season, and now he’s coming to the Bay Area.
The A’s open a four-game home series against Detroit on Thursday and will get a good look at the unlikely talk of baseball as they look to keep on a roll that has seen them win five of their past six games.
The 22-year-old rookie outfielder forced his way onto the Tigers roster with a huge spring, which would have been significant enough for a Rule 5 draftee. But not Baddoo. He belted a home run on the first pitch he saw as a major leaguer, hit a grand slam a day later, and had a walk-off 10th-inning single the next.
And Baddoo’s storybook start has shown no signs of slowing down.
“Akil’s in the middle of everything,” A.J. Hinch, the Tigers manager and former A’s catcher, told reporters recently. “I mean, his first few games have been about as active as you can get when you’re getting introduced to the big leagues.”
Through his first eight games, Baddoo posted a .391 batting average with four home runs and 10 RBI. He has gone just two games without recording at least one RBI. He also threw out the potential go-ahead run at home plate to set up his walk-off heroics a few minutes later.
There have been learning moments, too. Monday against the Astros, Baddoo, after blasting a homer over the center-field wall earlier in the game, crushed another ball toward the same spot. Assuming it also was going out of the park, he broke into a home run trot and slapped hands with Tigers first base coach Ramon Santiago before realizing the ball didn’t clear the wall. But the way Baddoo is going, it still worked out — he made it to second easily for a double.
Not surprisingly, Baddoo has become a fan favorite at Comerica Park. Fans chant “Ba-dooo!” during at-bats for the guy few had ever heard of until a few weeks ago.
Baddoo was swooped up in the Rule 5 draft from the Twins this winter — that means he had to remain on the Tigers roster all season or would be returned to Minnesota’s system. That figured to be a good bet two months ago.
The former second-round pick out Salem High in Georgia had never played a game above High A until April 4. Baddoo hit .323 in rookie ball in 2017, then hit .243 with 11 home runs in Class A. Baddoo hit .214 in 29 games in 2019 before Tommy John elbow surgery and he didn’t play a game last year because the minor league season was canceled due to the pandemic.
But an excellent spring training (he went 13 for 40 with five home runs) was enough to earn Baddoo a spot on the Tigers’ roster, and he’s made the most of every opportunity..
Baddoo recently told reporters that he credits his mother for getting him ready for his moment.
“My mom, she’s my rock,” Baddoo said. “She talks to me every day. She’s that person I go to for advice, just asking, ‘How do I approach this? How do I approach that?’ She just tells me, ‘Hey, be ready for your moment. Have fun, be relaxed. You’ve been working so hard your whole life, and you’ve been doing it since you were a kid.’”
Baddoo is now a part of the first wave of the Tigers’ infusion of young talent into their roster that soon will include Petaluma native Spencer Torkelson, who the Tigers drafted first overall last spring.
That wave also includes starting pitchers and former top prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, both of whom are scheduled to pitch at the Oakland Coliseum in the four-game set.
The first overall pick in the 2018 draft out of Auburn, Mize has been Detroit’s best pitcher in the young season with a .82 ERA in 11 innings.
Skubal, a Hayward native whose family moved out of state when was in sixth grade, has been far less effective — he owns 7.71 ERA in two starts. But the 24-year-old southpaw was the Tigers’ No. 5 overall prospect last year, according to MLB.com, and is expected to grow into a prominent role in their rotation in the future.
It hasn’t created the attention like Baddoo, but A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano is off to an electrifying start of his own and is a big reason the A’s are riding a four-game winning streak into this series.
Laureano, 26, has appeared in nine of Oakland’s 12 games this season and has made his presence felt with a .306 batting average, a home run and an outstanding 155 OPS+. Laureano’s baserunning this season has stood out most, though.
“He’s Mr. Energy,” Melvin said. “You never know what he’s going to do next.”
During the A’s winning streak, Laureano is 6 for 17, has scored five times, and has stolen four bases.
Laureano has been a more productive baserunner alone than the vast majority of MLB teams. Excluding the A’s, only two teams, the Colorado Rockies (12) and the Texas Rangers (nine), have stolen more bases than Laureano (eight). It’s early but Laureano’s baserunning has notes of Rickey Henderson-esque production.
“There are guys that steal bases and then there are guys that steal bases when you know they are trying to steal and he did,” Melvin said. “That’s another level type thing for him … and obviously his confidence is off the charts right now.”
Laureano’s success on the basepaths has been a long-time coming. After stealing seven and 13 bases in 2018 and 2019, respectively, Laureano stole just two bags in the condensed 2020 season, prompting him to look into ways to become a more potent base runner throughout the spring.
He had conversations with shortstop Elvis Andrus and Oakland’s base-running coaches about how to read opposing pitchers and get better jumps. It was a process that saw Laureano, who already possessed great speed, get back to the basics. It’s paid off so far.
“It seems like he does something every day to contribute to a win,” Melvin said. “He’s pretty electric.”
Moreland on the mend, Olson status still up in the air
The A’s are only 12 games deep into their season and the injury bug has already bitten hard.
Starting first baseman Matt Olson did not play in the A’s 7-5 win over the Diamondbacks on Tuesday after getting hit by a 90 mile-per-hour pitch in the left thumb on Monday night. While x-rays on Olson’s thumb showed that no bones were broken, it swelled to the point where he was unable to grip a bat on Tuesday, according to Melvin.
Olson is considered day-to-day and will be reevaluated before Thursday’s game against Detroit.
In addition to Olson, A’s backup first baseman and designated hitter Mitch Moreland has taken just one at-bat since April 8 due to hamstring soreness, though he is considered to have a good shot to be in Oakland’s starting lineup for game one against Detroit.
If Olson and Moreland are unable to play, the A’s could lean on utility player Seth Brown to man the corner infield spot as he did in the last few innings of Monday’s game and all of Tuesday. Brown, who was primarily an outfielder in his parts of three seasons with the A’s, said Tuesday that he is comfortable at first.
He also hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game, his second long ball of the year.
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Author: Jacob Rudner
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