How Detroit Tigers rookie Akil Baddoo's first 10 games track with some modern greats

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Ryan Ford, Detroit Free Press
·9 min read
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It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of a prospect making his major-league debut, especially when their narrative is as improbable as Akil Baddoo’s — Rule 5 draft pick, home run on his first pitch, sent from a dying planet to fight for truth, justice and the Ilitch-ian way, etc. — has been for the Detroit Tigers.

And, indeed, the results from his first 10 games — still a small sample size, but one that covers more than a hot weekend, at least — are impressive: 10-for-31 with two doubles, a triple, four homers, 11 RBIs and even a steal. His 11 strikeouts and only one walk, though, are less Superman and more Clark Kent.

But what do the numbers say? Thousands of players have made their MLB debuts in the 29 seasons since MLB expanded to 30 teams in 1993. How does Baddoo, who hadn’t seen a pitch above High-A ball before homering April 4, stack up? Just 393 have done what Baddoo has done in picking up a hit in at least seven of his first 10 career games. And of those 393, 36 have matched or bettered his 26 total bases in their first 10 games.

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Tigers left fielder Akil Baddoo hits an RBI triple against the Twins during the second inning Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at Comerica Park.
Tigers left fielder Akil Baddoo hits an RBI triple against the Twins during the second inning Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at Comerica Park.

But don’t worry, we’re not going to break down all 36 of those players’ careers. Instead, we’ll take a look at three who continued to boom, three who busted, and three who were, well, somehow late bloomers despite their hot starts.

The booms

2001: Albert Pujols

Pujols was less than two years removed from being drafted in the 13th round (No. 402 overall) out of Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City, Missouri, when he made his MLB debut on April 2 with the St. Louis Cardinals. He also had only three games of regular-season experience above Class-A — though his .953 and .822 OPS in the Midwest and Carolina leagues, respectively, suggested a possibility of big-league success, as did his walk-off homer to win the PCL Championship in Triple-A.

Albert Pujols with the Cardinals.
Albert Pujols with the Cardinals.

Then again, Pujols actually struggled in his first three games, going 1-for-9. The next seven games, though? He had 13 hits — including three doubles and three homers — in 27 at-bats while walking three times and striking out three times, to finish his first 10 career games with 26 total bases and a .389/.436/.722 slash line. He didn’t cool off after that, either, with just two hitless stretches of three games or more the rest of the season en route to the NL Rookie of the Year award and fourth-place finish in NL MVP voting.

2015: Carlos Correa

Correa’s path to stardom was a bit more predictable, as the Houston Astros took him No. 1 overall in the 2012 draft. But youth and injuries kept him from hitting above High-A until 2015, when he tore up Double-A (1.185 OPS in 29 games) and then Triple-A (.794 in 24 games) in April and May. By June, of course, the Astros and manager AJ Hinch were in the franchise’s first playoff chase in a decade and Correa was needed in Houston.

The 20-year-old picked up hits in nine of his first 10 games — with six extra-base hits but also 11 strikeouts and only two walks — collecting 27 total bases with a .349/.378/.628 slash line. His next 10 games were less successful, as eight of 12 hits were for extra bases and he posted a .279/.295/.558 line. At that point, Hinch moved Correa down a spot in the batting order, from No. 2 to 3 and Correa put it all together; he finished the year with a .279/.345/.512 line and took home AL Rookie of the Year honors in just 99 games played.

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2016: Trevor Story

Taken 45th overall in 2011, Story’s corner of the late first round has already been pretty successful. The pick ahead of him, Michael Fulmer, was the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year and a 2017 All-Star. The pick after Story, Joe Musgrove, threw the San Diego Padres’ first no-hitter earlier this month. And Story? He slowly progressed through the Colorado Rockies’ system, following a down 2014 (a .683 OPS in 56 Double-A games) with a stellar 2015 (.863 OPS in Double- and Triple-A).

Still, nothing suggested the success the shortstop would have in his first 10 games: hits in eight of them, with two triples and seven home runs, for 39 total bases and a 1.183 OPS. He cooled off slightly — to a mere .872 OPS — before a torn ligament in his thumb ended his season July 30. Still, he finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting; since then, he has two All-Star nods and three finishes in the top 12 of NL MVP voting.

The busts

1998: Craig Wilson

Another 13th-round pick (by the Chicago White Sox in 1992), Wilson took a little longer to make the majors, including two full seasons (1997-98) in Triple-A. That second season, however, came in hitter-friendly Calgary, and a 27-year-old Wilson’s .817 OPS earned him a September call-up with the ChiSox.

In his first 10 games, he hit five doubles and three homers to go with 12 singles in 40 at-bats, for a .500/.535/.850 line with 34 total bases. His final three games of 1998 were a bit more indicative of his big-league potential: 2-for-7 with no walks and a sac fly. Still, the hot start was enough to nab him a roster spot for nearly 100 games in 1999 — in which he hit .238.

2003: Bo Hart

Just Hart’s appearance in the majors was a success, considering he parlayed a 33rd-round pick (No. 1,002 overall) out of Gonzaga into five seasons in the middle infield in the Cardinals’ farm system. But when second baseman Miguel Cairo broke his hand in June 2003, Hart — by then hitting .297 as a 26-year-old in Triple-A — got the call June 19. He doubled and tripled in his debut, hitting .460 in 50 at-bats over those first 10 games. He cooled off, hitting .257 in July and .211 in August. He made seven appearances in September and 11 — with 13 at-bats — in 2004 and was done in the big leagues.

2019: Aristides Aquino

The Cincinnati Reds signed Aquino as a 17-year-old amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2011. He struggled at nearly every level of the Reds’ system before breaking through with a .299/.356/.636 in 78 Triple-A games in 2019.

Reds' Aristides Aquino.
Reds' Aristides Aquino.

Called up at the start of August, he went 0-for-6 in two games. And then? Magic! Seven home runs (plus a double, five singles and two walks) in his next seven games, capped by a three-homer game Aug. 10 against the Cubs. He followed that with four homers in his next 10 games, for 11 homers in his first 20 career games. Since then, though, he has 12 homers in 70 games, including two in 10 games this season.

The late-bloomers

2011: J.D. Martinez

Martinez, drafted in the 20th round out of Nova Southeastern University needed just over two years to tear through the Astros farm system, mostly because an epic rebuild at the major-league level had finally put the Astros on a 100-loss pace for the first time in franchise history. Martinez skipped Triple-A entirely and made his MLB debut July 30, thanks to minor-league OPSes of .997, .937 and .959. And, hey, for his first 10 games, he looked like he was a future star, with four singles, three doubles and four homers in 36 at-bats. He hit two more home runs the rest of the season.

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J.D. Martinez as a Tiger.
J.D. Martinez as a Tiger.

Extended tryouts for Martinez in 2012-13, thanks to the Astros’ rebuild, featured a .671 OPS over 199 games. As the Astros prepared to win again in 2014, there was no room for Martinez, and they released him just before the start of the season, despite a revised power-seeking swing. He signed with the Tigers, hit 10 home runs in 17 April Triple-A games and the rest is history for Detroit and Martinez, with three All-Star nods and four seasons of at least 36 homers.

2014: Jorge Soler

Signed by the Chicago Cubs out of Cuba as a 20-year-old in 2012, Soler earned a big-league call-up by 2014 on the strength of a run through Double- and Triple-A with 20 doubles and 14 homers in 54 games. His first 10 career games made that decision look good, as he hit three homers and added five doubles (for 28 total bases) in 37 at-bats. He crashed hard, though, with 23 total bases in the final 14 games of the season. It took another four seasons — and a trade to Kansas City in 2017 — to unlock Soler’s power swing again. Finally, in 2019, Soler crushed 48 homers — tops in the AL and a Royals franchise record — and 33 doubles to finish with a .265/.354/.569 slash line.

2019: Kyle Lewis

Lewis, the winner of the 2015 Golden Spikes Award as the best college player in the nation, went No. 11 overall in the draft to the Seattle Mariners in 2016. But he tore multiple knee ligaments 30 games into his pro career and struggled with his recovery, OPSing under .800 all the way through Double-A. The M’s called him up in early September, mostly as a tribute to his injury rehab. But in his first 10 games, he hit six homers for 34 total bases in 40 at-bats. His final eight games of the season brought just two extra-base hits, both doubles.

Mariners' Kyle Lewis.
Mariners' Kyle Lewis.

Lewis bounced back in 2020, though, winning the AL Rookie of the Year award with 11 homers and an .801 OPS over 58 games. That won’t be the final word on Lewis’ career: He posted a .368/.456/.585 line with 28 strikeouts and 18 walks in his first 125 plate appearances of the season (over 29 games), and a .150/.265/.280 line with 43 strikeouts and 16 walks in his final 117 plate appearances (also over 29 games). He’s likely to make his 2021 debut this week after bruising his knee during spring training.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How Tigers' Akil Baddoo's first 10 games track with some modern greats