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Tigers snag 'everyday prospect' Akil Baddoo from Twins in Rule 5 draft

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

'Tis the season for buying – and the Tigers hope they found a bargain Thursday when they grabbed Twins outfielder Akil Baddoo with the third pick in MLB’s Rule 5 Draft.

Baddoo, 22, has a lyrical name destined for significant Tigers jersey sales should he find a season-long 2021 home on Detroit’s active roster and happy days at Comerica Park afterward.

But it was his left-handed bat, his speed, his size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), his ability to play three outfield posts, and his overall potential that led the Tigers to bite.

The Tigers selected outfielder Akil Badoo in Thursday's Rule 5 draft.

“If he sticks, he’s a legitimate center fielder and everyday prospect,” said Al Avila, the Tigers general manager whose team also lost a player Thursday – right-handed reliever Will Vest, who was snagged by the Mariners.

“This kid’s got the tools,” Avila said, speaking of Baddoo, a Maryland native and Georgia prep star who in 2015 was the Twins’ second-round pick. “We got really good info. He has tremendous makeup, great work ethic, a really good, intelligent kid.

“And he has pure athleticism.”

Why a prospect with credentials supposedly so heavy wasn’t good enough to crack the Twins’ 40-man roster is for the Twins' front office to explain. But the fact Minnesota has a closet full of young outfield prospects is no doubt one factor as is the fact Baddoo has played little baseball the past two seasons.

He worked in only 29 games in 2019, at Single A Fort Myers, before having Tommy John surgery on his left (throwing) elbow. Baddoo didn’t play again in a Twins uniform until this fall during the team’s Instructional Camp at Fort Myers, Florida.

Opposing scouts were not allowed into the Twins facility, because of COVID-19 concerns, but the Tigers got enough information to reinforce Thursday’s pick.

Rule 5 players are available if they have had significant minor-league time but have not graduated to their possessing team’s 40-man roster. They can then be acquired for $100,000. The stipulation is that they must work the entire ensuing season on the acquiring team’s active roster.

If they lose their active-roster seat at any point they must be returned to the original team for one-half of the purchase price, unless, in most cases, a trade is worked out.

The Tigers have gone the Rule 5 route plenty through the years, most recently in grabbing right-handed reliever Rony Garcia a year ago from the Yankees. Garcia stuck it out on the Tigers’ day-to-day roster and remains Detroit property, as does Victor Reyes, an outfielder who was the first-overall Rule 5 pick in 2017.

Baddoo is viewed by scouts as offering more power, more speed, and more defense than Reyes, although his bat, which hasn’t yet been tested even at Double A, will almost certainly be an issue in 2021.

In four minor-league seasons, Baddoo has a .249 batting average, .357 on-base percentage and .422 slugging average, which is rounded to an OPS of .780. He has struck out 231 times in 233 games.

“We think he has bat speed, with a good stroke,” Avila said. “He can bunt for a base hit and steal a base. And he can take a pitch the other way.”

The Tigers believe Baddoo is a long-term investment who, for now, is worth carrying when he is 22 and shines in so many skills categories. The expectation is that, if he can contribute next year even as an occasional defender and pinch-runner, the Tigers can gamble on his bat maturing and his value appreciating, even if he requires a couple of seasons on the farm after 2021.

A team aching for position talent is especially needy in the outfield. Next year’s early cast likely will consist of Reyes, JaCoby Jones, Harold Castro, Christin Stewart, Daz Cameron, and perhaps Derek Hill, as well as Travis Demeritte and 40-man roster tenant Troy Stokes Jr.

A handful of prized farm kids are working their way toward regular work in Detroit, beginning with Riley Greene, and extending through a cast that includes Daniel Cabrera, Parker Meadows, Bryant Packard, Jose De La Cruz and Colt Keith.

But the timetable is uncertain there, to be sure, with the possible exception of Greene, who is likely to crack Comerica Park no later than 2022. It leaves plenty of space for help the Tigers believe they might have added in Baddoo.

Yunior Perez

It is known the Tigers had three Rule 5 players on their wish-list for Thursday. And while the team is offering no names, it is believed one of their preferences was Dodgers prospect pitcher Brett de Geus, who went second overall to the Rangers, as well as another right-handed talent, Luis Oviedo, from the Indians stable, who was scooped up by the Mets with the ninth pick.

The Tigers themselves had worried about getting their farm pockets picked Thursday. They were particularly concerned a team might poach fire-balling right-hander Jason Foley, who has an upper-90-mph sinker.

But he was ignored and the Mariners instead jumped on Vest, 25, also a right-hander, and one of the late-bloomers among the Tigers’ pitching crop.

Vest was a 12th-round pick from Stephen F. Austin State in 2017 and was moving nicely up the Tigers’ farm-chain even before October’s Instructional Camp. There, he suddenly was firing high-90s heat, with a serious slider and change-up.

Scouts no doubt noticed and the Mariners decided Vest was worth a risk that carries really no risk when money is minimal and a potential payoff can be a steal, rare as it tends to be in the Rule 5 realm.

There was also a Triple A phase to Thursday’s Rule 5 doings and the Tigers went for the kind of pitcher so often snagged from baseball’s bargain aisles: Yunior Perez, a 6-foot-4, right-handed reliever who next week turns 22.

Perez has been in the Cubs system since signing in 2016 for $600,000 – big money in the context of MLB’s market-price for a Latin American teen. Perez is from Dani, Dominican Republic, and, no surprise, has a fastball in the high 90s.

“A year after he signed he had Tommy John,” Avila said of Perez. “So he hasn’t pitched a lot of innings. We were interested, based mostly on velocity.”

Perez has pitched only 96.2 professional innings. In three of those four seasons he had an ERA that averaged 4.54 with a WHIP of 1.4-plus.

The higher numbers were due mainly to walking 49 batters in those 96.2 innings, which pairs with 102 strikeouts.

The Tigers, though, liked Perez, who cost but $24,000 to acquire. Even during a bad business year, a team from Detroit decided the price was right when it’s hunting for assets of any kind.