There were plenty of things that happened during the Minnesota Twins series with the Detroit Tigers. Byron Buxton looked like one of the best power hitters in the league. Nelson Cruz showed that he can still run at 40 years old. And the Twins look like a team that can remain on top of the AL Central.
But the weirdest storyline came on Tuesday afternoon. During the Twins’ 10-inning loss to the Tigers, I received a text from a friend who was watching the game. While this season will likely generate plenty of odd remarks from my friends, Tuesday’s is already a contender for the strangest of the year.
“We just had to get rid of Akil Baddoo…”
On a roster that is full of former Twins players, the Tigers may have found their next Twins killer in Baddoo. The 22-year-old’s career has gotten off to a blazing start, hitting 5-for-11 with two home runs and seven RBI. It’s hard to project his career six games into a season but Baddoo’s story makes him an even likelier candidate to destroy the Twins.
Baddoo was drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 2016 MLB Entry Draft. One of the final picks of the Terry Ryan era, he was a toolsy prospect who Baseball America’s Jim Callis said had 20/20 upside.
The Twins envisioned him as a center fielder once he reached the majors and his career got off to a strong start between stints in the Appalachian and Gulf Coast Rookie Leagues. After hitting .323/.436/.527 with four home runs and 29 RBI in 53 games, things tailed off when Baddoo was sent to Low-A Cedar Rapids for the 2018 season.
In 113 games, Baddoo hit just .243/.351/.419 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI. While he also stole 24 bases on 29 attempts, Baddoo couldn’t work his way through the log jam of Twins outfielders, including 2016 first-round pick Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach.
Baddoo’s 2019 season began at High-A Fort Myers, but he only played in 29 games before requiring Tommy John surgery. After a lengthy rehab combined with the cancelation of last year’s minor league season, Minnesota left Baddoo unprotected in the Rule 5 draft.
Detroit took a flier on Baddoo, who caught fire during spring training. In 21 games, he hit .325/.460/.750 with five home runs and 11 RBI, forcing his way onto the Tigers roster. Once he arrived in the major leagues, he sent the first pitch he saw over the left-field fence and continued hitting during the series going 4-for-8 with a home run and five RBI.
After hitting a ninth-inning grand slam off Randy Dobnak in the opener, Baddoo made his mark with his walk-off single in the second game.
There may have been plenty of texts asking “Why did the Twins let this guy go?” My answer is that the front office turned over.
After taking over in 2017, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine started to mold the Twins in their vision. They started by taking Royce Lewis, who could wind up becoming an outfielder. In 2018 they took Larnach, who raced past Baddoo and should start this season in St. Paul. And their second pick in 2017, Brent Rooker, is an outfielder who played well before he was injured last year and was one of their first call-ups this season.
With so many outfielders, it was almost impossible for Baddoo to make his way to Minnesota. It’s a similar situation the Twins had in the early 2000s with Casey Blake.
After being blocked by Corey Koskie, Blake signed with the Cleveland Indians prior to the 2003 season. While Blake didn’t put up mind-bending numbers, he turned it on when facing the Twins.
In 100 career games against the Twins, Blake hit .287/.344/.469 with 15 HR and 49 RBI. It may not have been just his games with the Twins — he crushed the Tigers too — but Blake wound up thriving with the opportunity and enjoyed a 13-year career in the majors.
A big difference is that Blake was 29 when he got his first opportunity to play. Baddoo will turn 23 in August and could terrorize the Twins for years to come if his play to start the season holds up.
This would be a giant pain for Twins fans but not the end of the world. Kirilloff is expected to be a major contributor upon his arrival in Minnesota. And with Buxton, Max Kepler, and Larnach also in the system, the Twins outfield should be great for years to come.
But there always seems to be that one player who always plays well against the Twins. With his story, it may not be surprising if it’s Baddoo.