The Baddoo Philosophy: Just Score Runs
Image courtesy of Steve Buhr (photo of Akil Baddoo)"Just score runs. That’s the goal and that’s how you win games."
Of course being a consistently productive leadoff hitter at any professional level really is a little more complicated than that.
“Just really getting on base,” Baddoo said in an interview late last week. “If I get a walk, I’ll be satisfied with a walk because I know I’ll turn a walk into a double when I end up stealing second base. I’m just trying to find a way to get into scoring position so my third hitter and fourth hitter, which we have studs in the third hole and the fourth hole, just can knock me in.”
You also won’t see Baddoo swinging at the first pitch often. His aversion to first-pitch cuts may not be quite as severe as the current leadoff hitter for the parent club Minnesota Twins, but at least in his first at-bat of the game, his approach does appear more than a little bit Joe Mauer-ish.
“I’m just seeing what the pitcher has, how his curveball is, what the fastball’s doing,” Baddoo explained. “Then, if I get a base hit, then that’s a good thing, it’s a positive. But mostly it’s like a sacrifice, I’m just trying to figure out what he has, so I’m prepared in my next at-bat and third at-bat and going on. Then I can translate that to my other players. I can tell them, ‘Hey the breaking ball is 12 and 6,’ or ‘it’s side-to-side and the fastball has a little run to it.’ That’s what I kind of do my first at-bat. And then, if I get a hit, that’s good, that’s positive. But I know what he has.”
Baddoo’s “just score runs” philosophy has translated to results on the field.
Akil Baddoo (Photo by SD Buhr)
Through Sunday’s 3-2 win at Wisconsin, Baddoo had crossed the plate a team-high 77 times for the Kernels in 2018. That’s 25 more than any of his Kernels teammates and only two players in the Midwest League have scored more runs than Baddoo this season.
So how does a guy sporting a modest .238 batting average score so many runs?
“Akil is an athlete and a good baseball player,” Kernels hitting coach Brian Dinkelman explained. “ He goes through stretches where he’s really good and he goes through stretches where he has tough times. I think he’s still learning the game and learning himself, to be a consistent ballplayer all the time. But if you look at his numbers, I mean, double digits in homers, doubles, triples, stolen bases. So he can do a little bit of everything.”
Indeed, Baddoo’s 10 home runs tie him with Ben Rodriguez for third most among Kernels this season and since both of the guys ahead of them on the list are now playing for the Ft. Myers Miracle, you could say they are the active team co-leaders.
His 20 doubles also make him the “active” team leader in that category, tied with Alex Kirilloff and trailing only Royce Lewis and Jose Miranda – and all three have been promoted to Ft. Myers.
Baddoo isn’t looking up at anyone on the triples list as his 10 three-baggers not only leads the Kernels, but the entire Midwest League.
He’s stolen 21 bases, good enough for second among Kernels this season, and he would look to be in position to claim the team lead soon as he trails the departed Lewis by a single stolen base.
And don’t forget the walks.
With 69 walks on the season, Baddoo leads his team and ranks fourth on the MWL leaderboard.
Not too bad for a guy who just celebrated his 20th birthday last week and is in his first year of full-season professional baseball.
Baddoo was a Lottery Round B (74th overall) draft selection by the Twins in 2016 out of Salem High School in Conyers, Georgia – about 20 miles east of Atlanta.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it took a while for a Georgia kid to adjust to the chilly Midwest as the season got underway, but as the weather warmed up, so did Baddoo.
After hitting just .196 in April, he nudged that average up to .240 in May and his .245 batting average in June was accompanied by an OPS of .820. He followed that up by hitting .280 in July, again with an OPS north of .800 for the month.
August has not been particularly kind to Baddoo, so it’s possible that the long season is catching up to him. His 105 games played is also a team-high number.
Akil Baddoo (Photo by SD Buhr)
“He’s going through a little rough spell where he’s striking out a little bit more, missing pitches,” Dinkelman observed. “We’re getting late in the season. I don’t know if maybe he’s getting a little bit tired, he’s been playing a lot of games for us. I’m sure fatigue probably is a little bit of a factor. Hopefully, he can find some extra energy the last couple of weeks.”
Energy isn’t something the casual observer would ever think the dynamic Baddoo runs low on, but he’s also not all that concerned about his stat line.
“I don’t really go too much on stats,” he said. “I know some people do, but it’s mostly about development and I feel myself getting better defensively and offensively. I’ve drawn a lot of walks, I’m getting on base, I’m scoring runs. I’m stealing bases. That’s really the goal and that’s what I’m trying to accomplish. I’m satisfied with what I’m doing, so far.”
One thing we know for sure is that it’s not the Iowa summer, with temperatures through most of the past month running consistently in the upper 80s and into the 90s, that’s worn him down.
“Exactly like Georgia, I love this weather right now,” Baddoo said. “They told me that, too, they said, ‘Once it dies down and not cold anymore, it’s going to get hot and it’s perfect.’ And they were right. This is amazing. I love it. Great baseball weather!”
With just two weeks left in the Midwest League’s regular season, Baddoo said he’s looking forward to the drive toward the postseason, but doesn’t want to change his approach down the stretch.
“No, not really, just keep getting after it,” he said. “Just going 110% and that’s what I do. I continue to work hard.”
Under the MWL playoff format, teams that finish first and second in each of the league’s two division during the first half of the season already have postseason spots locked up, while the remaining 14 teams battle for the four second-half qualifying spots.
With two weeks left, the Kernels hold the top spot in the MWL West Division, but need to hold off at least two of Beloit (3 games back), Kane County (4 games back) and Wisconsin (6 games back) to earn a playoff spot.
Baddoo’s smile lights up when the subject of potential for postseason play is the topic and he likes his team’s chances of making a deep postseason run.
“Now we’re in a race. We’re in a race for the playoffs,” he said. “I kind of like it though. We have a great team, coaches that have prepared us for this moment and we’ve been playing great baseball lately.
“You’ve got to realize that the teams that qualified in the first half, some of those guys aren’t there.”
Akil Baddoo with the stolen base (Photo by SD Buhr)
It’s the second straight season that Baddoo has been a part of a playoff contender, after playing for Appalachian League champion Elizabethton in 2017.
“E-town was great, I enjoyed E-town,” he said, smiling big. “We won it all, that was pretty cool.”
Of course, that’s a pretty familiar refrain to Cedar Rapids fans who have heard about Rookie level championship rosters before, only to see many of the same players fall short of a Midwest League title the following year. Cedar Rapids hasn’t won the MWL since 1992.
Baddoo hopes this is the year that trend changes.
“Maybe this year we’ll pull it off! We’re trying. We’ll try our best.”
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