It’s rare to see a player without a single plate appearance above High-A get thrown directly into the fire of Major League Baseball. However, Akil Baddoo seems poised to make the jump. Selected as the third overall pick of the Rule-Five Draft in December, Baddoo must spend the entire 2021 season on the Detroit Tigers’ Major League roster, or else he will be returned to his former organization, the Minnesota Twins. With the Tigers unlikely to be competitive this year, it is in their best long-term interest to hold onto Baddoo, regardless of performance. As expected, he has made Detroit’s Opening Day roster and is likely to stay there all season.
Path to Playing Time
There are multiple reasons why the team a given player plays on can be relevant for his fantasy value. First off, the quality of the team’s offense will affect a player’s Run and RBI totals. Additionally, the fewer outs a team makes, the more plate appearances its players get per game. Unfortunately, this does not benefit Baddoo. According to Depth Charts, the Tigers are projected to score 4.63 runs per game in 2021, good for 21st in Major League Baseball.
On the other hand, playing on a poor team can also influence one’s opportunity for playing time. Although Roster Resource projects Baddoo as a bench player, it is fairly easy to envision a scenario where he becomes a starter in the near future. The Tigers’ current starting outfield features Robbie Grossman, JaCoby Jones, and Victor Reyes. None of those names are particularly exciting. It is well within the realm of possibility that one of them struggles, leading to more playing time for Baddoo. Moreover, if the Tigers are out of the race in July, they may opt to give Baddoo a shot regardless, as he is more important to their future than Grossman.
Many MLB-ready prospects are forced to stay in the minors for various reasons, such as more playing time opportunity, to work on a certain skill, or most notoriously, service time manipulation (looking at you, Jarred Kelenic). This can be frustrating to fantasy owners, as it feels like you are wasting a bench spot. Fortunately, this will not be the case for Baddoo due to the Rule Five stipulation. He is nearly a lock to stay on the Tigers’ active roster the entire season, even if he struggles.
Since Baddoo has never taken an MLB regular-season plate appearance (as of the time this article was written), it is difficult to project how he will perform in year one. (Editor’s note: Baddoo got his first plate appearance Sunday and promptly smashed the first pitch he saw for a home run.) To make things even harder, the highest level in the minors Baddoo has reached is High-A, where he took 131 PA in 2021.
The first thing that stands out, to me at least, is his high walk rate. My philosophy is, the more often a player walks, the higher his floor is. It would be unreasonable to expect Baddoo to put up a 14% walk rate in his rookie season, but it is a skill that is known to be pretty sustainable. Additionally, Baddoo has gradually increased his home run rate as he rose through the minors. The uptick in power is part of the reason why Baddoo has gained hype from prospect evaluators.
By far, the most stable basic statistic from the minors to the majors in strikeout percentage. Baddoo already had trouble with contact in the minors, so don’t be surprised to see him strike out a lot. Because of this, I am a little wary about Baddoo in points leagues that penalize batters for strikeouts. However, in categories leagues, a strikeout counts the same as any other out, and Baddoo seems to do well on batted balls. The bottom line can be whether his plate discipline and power can overcome the strikeouts.
Now, I will warn you to proceed with caution. Most of the data points from this correlation analysis are players from AA or AAA, unlike Baddoo. Unfortunately, a jump from the lower level minor leagues straight to the majors is so rare that there is not enough data to make a legitimate observation from.
Here is the exciting part. Baddoo was incredible this Spring, solidifying his spot on the Tigers’ Opening Day roster. In 50 Spring Training PA, Baddoo slashed .325/.460/.750 with 5 HR, 10 BB, and 14 SO. In a small sample, Baddoo showcased power, plate discipline, and a bit of speed. And it wasn’t solely against minor-league competition either—here’s a home run Baddoo hit off Domingo Germán, the only home run he allowed of the 48 batters he faced in Spring Training.
As you can see, he has a sweet left-handed swing with quick hands to generate power, hopefully leading to several more homers like that. Baddoo put together an impressive Statcast profile this Spring as well, logging 10 out of 21 batted balls (including four home runs) above 100 MPH off the bat. Not all Spring Training games were tracked by Statcast, meaning this number could be even higher. He posted a 16% barrel rate on plays tracked by Statcast, which is well above league average. If Baddoo can continue to crush baseballs and walk a good amount, the high whiff rate will be a side effect we can live with.
Summing it All Up
Don’t be surprised if Baddoo struggles early on. He is just 22 years old and has never even sniffed Double-A. If you are looking for early season production from an outfielder, Baddoo may not be your guy. He may not even get to play much throughout the first month of the season. The Tigers know that he can be a legitimate part of their long-term plans, and that’s why they picked him up. He can have the same impact on your dynasty teams. As the season goes on, I expect Baddoo to gradually receive more opportunities and hopefully experience continued success at the plate. If you’re a DFS player, when he is in the starting lineup with a good matchup, his $3,000 DraftKings salary may turn into a worthwhile investment.
Whether or not we see it this year, Akil Baddoo is a player to keep an eye on for the future. He brings many tools to the table, including power, plate discipline, and speed. If you are in a dynasty league or possibly even a deep redraft league and Baddoo is sitting there on the waiver wire, I urge you to take a flier before it’s too late.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Aaron Polcare