Tigers demote Akil Baddoo to Triple-A Toledo after slow start

Monday in the Detroit Tigers clubhouse, Akil Baddoo went through a difficult ritual. Getting sent down to the minor leagues comes not only with the hard reality that you are not performing well enough, but also with a series of small consequences — packing things in bags, choosing which shoes to ship south, getting sympathetic hugs from teammates.

“You always got to make good out of it, you know what I mean?” Baddoo shortly before leaving. “It’s unfortunate. But I’m gonna go down there and get the reps that I need and be ready to come back.”

The Tigers optioned Baddoo — who was hitting only .140 — to Triple-A Toledo before Monday’s game. The demotion is not surprising based on the numbers. But seeing it actually happen is still somewhat shocking. This time one year ago, Baddoo was the best story on the Tigers, the Rule 5 draft pick who kept doing spectacular things. He battled through the ups and downs of a full season in the majors and still finished with offensive numbers that ranked 8 percent better than the league average.

That’s part of why Tigers manager A.J. Hinch included some perspective in his meeting with Baddoo. The Tigers have struggled to find playing time for Baddoo in a lineup that isn’t producing runs. They want him to get more consistent at-bats in Triple A. But the minors are an odd place to be after achieving success in the bigs.

“It’s gonna feel awkward,” Hinch said he told Baddoo. “You’re not gonna feel like you belong there.”

Baddoo entered this season with hopes he could build on his good rookie year, that perhaps he could take his talent to another level. But to say no one saw this as a possibility isn’t quite correct. Because Baddoo was plucked from the Twins system in the Rule 5 draft, he entered the big leagues having never played above High A before. In between all the magical moments, Baddoo spent a lot of time treading water, learning on the fly. There were still small elements of his game he could improve.

Still, the Tigers certainly expected Baddoo to hit better than he has so far this season. Baddoo has only seven hits in 50 at-bats. He’s had awful struggles against sliders and other offspeed pitches. He has struck out in 27.3 percent of at-bats. He has looked in-between in terms of both his timing — often late on fastballs and early on breaking balls — and his overall identity as a hitter.

Baddoo hit 13 homers a year ago but often made his biggest impact with gritty at-bats, 46 two-strike hits and a .417 average with two outs and runners in scoring position.

This year, Baddoo’s approach has seemed inconsistent and, often, simply off.

“I think he got caught in between what hitter he wants to be,” Hinch said. “I know everybody seeks damage, everybody wants power, and to create that you’ve got to sacrifice something. I think he sacrificed a little bit of controlling the strike zone and his ability to hit with two strikes. He shouldn’t be a 30 percent strikeout rate guy. He shouldn’t be someone who doesn’t utilize his speed and his contact skills to put pressure on the defense.

“And then things piled up on him a little bit. I think as the at-bats started to go south, he wanted to make up for it in the next at-bat, and then that just compounded the issue.”

In Toledo, Baddoo will be able to play every day and get more consistent at-bats. He’ll also get more work to improve his outfield play — Baddoo has been worth -3 defensive runs saved so far and hasn’t been able to handle center field for the Tigers.

All this paints a negative portrait of a player who kept proving the doubters wrong in 2021. And that’s where another important point comes into play. Baddoo is going down to decompress, to improve his plate approach, to fix his swing. It’s not necessarily a referendum on his place in the organization.

“This is not an indictment on his ability, his future, his present,” Hinch said. “It just changes where he’s playing starting tomorrow, and he can be back here in short order. I think this can be good for him.”

This will be Baddoo’s first time ever in a Triple-A clubhouse. But he has an example of someone who turned a midseason demotion into a stepping stone on his own team. The Tigers sent a struggling Jeimer Candelario down in June of 2019. Candelario proceeded to hit well in Triple A, then earned Tiger of the Year honors in both 2020 and 2021.

“Just get my reps so I can be back here,” Baddoo said. “I feel like I’m best here, a big-league player, having that speed and that energy and that athleticism.”

No one wanted Baddoo to have to make the short trip south to Toledo. But the hope is for him to be back soon.

“He’s not the first player that has to do this,” Hinch said. “He’s not gonna be the last player, and he’s gonna take the right approach because he’s Akil Baddoo.”

(Photo: Nic Antaya / Getty Images)

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