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No. 7 – Justin Thomas, LHP

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 10, 2007

When the M’s selected Justin Thomas in the fourth round of the 2005 First Year Players Draft, some questioned the choice, contending that Thomas was nothing more than a future middle reliever with average stuff.

Since then Thomas has changed the minds of most. The majority seem to believe he has a shot to start in the big leagues, provided he continues to improve over the next year and a half. One scout went as far as suggesting that Thomas had “the makings of a pretty valuable pitcher backing up a solid front three. He’s the ideal type of talent that can effectively support a good rotation.”

The string of strong drafts began in the fourth round of 2004 (Rob Johnson, then Mark Lowe in the 5th) and continued right on through the following June’s first day with selections such as Thomas, 5th rounder Steve Kahn and 7th rounder Robert Rohrbaugh.

Thomas is a favorite of mine because of his size, pitchability and the fact that he’s had success from the very start of his pro career.

Strengths: Thomas brings a bulldog type attitude to the mound and it shows up in the results – a good sign for a potential middle-rotation type. At 6-3 and 225 pounds, he’s built well and as a lefthander, throws with above-average velocity.

He’s developed nicely in his one-plus years in the system, and has handled each level just as the club wanted. He’s still three levels from the big leagues, but he could move along a little quicker from this point on.

Thomas is very good versus lefty bats, which bodes well for his future.

Weaknesses: Thomas could use better command of his off-speed pitches and now that he’s experienced after college and more than a year in pro ball, that aspect of his game should start showing up this season.

The 23-year-old is athletic enough to field his position well and he’s about average at holding runners. He’s been able to bare down with runners on base thus far, evidence that he may deal with adversity fairly well.

Tools –

Fastball: The Youngstown State product sits in the 88-92 mph range with his four-seamer, and with solid movement. He attacks aggressively on both sides of the plate and is adept at getting the groundball at a decent rate.

While he’s not going to blow away hitters regularly, he will sneak in a low-90s dart on either corner and catch a good hitter watching a called third strike.
Grade: 50+/55

Slider: Currently an average offering, Thomas’ slider has improved since draft day, showing sharper break and more consistency after making some long overdue adjustments to his mechanics.

His slider is clocked in the 82-85 mph range and is especially effective against lefthanders with its tailing break.
Grade: 50/55

Changeup: Possibly the most important pitch in Thomas’ arsenal is his circle change, thrown in the 81-83 mph range. When it’s working, the pitch will die an untimely death, at least for the hitter anyway. Thomas has developed a pretty good feel for the pitch and has regular success with it. More consistency with its location could bump it up a grade, which is what draws the comparisons to Mark Buehrle (above) as a star for which to shoot.
Grade: 50/60

Command: Thomas has posted decent yet unspectacular walk rates and occasionally can fall behind hitters and create tough situations for himself. Overall, however, the M’s 2005 4th rounder doesn’t beat himself. He allowed 14 home runs in nearly 170 innings last season, despite pitching in the homer-happy California League for 2/3 of the year.
Grade: 50/55

Mechanics: Throwing from a typical lefthanded 5/8 arm slot, Thomas creates good balance and his consistent delivery plays up all of his pitches, particularly his fastball-change combo. Slight adjustments were made in his actions toward the plate, specifically from the stretch, and his numbers have been more than satisfactory ever since.
Grade: 50/55

Future: Thomas has good enough stuff, grading at average or better in all areas, to start regularly in the majors, and may be closer to the big leagues than fellow southpaw and ’05 draftee Robert Rohrbaugh, despite being about a year behind in his climb up the ladder.

He’ll likely begin the 2007 season with Double-A West Tennessee with a chance to end the year in Triple-A, setting himself up for a big-league opportunity from September through the following spring.

Thomas profiles as a No. 4 starter, but if he maximizes his potential, there’s no reason he can’t be a workhorse in the middle of a decent rotation. He has enough stuff to work out of the bullpen, too, where his effectiveness against lefties would be valuable.

MLB ETA: 2008

MLB CLONE –

Ceiling: Mark Buehrle

Median: Jarrod Washburn

Cellar: Brad Halsey

OFP: 59.0

PI Projection 2007: 3.85 ERA, 185 IP, 3.5 W/9, 7.9 K/9, 1.8 G/F

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20 Responses to “No. 7 – Justin Thomas, LHP”

  1. Edgar said

    I really like Thomas too. It would be nice to see him make it to AAA or MLB this year so I could actually see him pitch. How much GB tendency is he actually going to have at higher levels? Does he do a good job of keeping the ball down? He seems pretty well rounded right now. What do you think we need to be the most worried about?

  2. I don’t think he’s going to be a ground ball pitcher, but he should be able to get enough of them to avoid being the dreaded “severe fly ball artist.”

    As far as what to worry about…

    Always start with health, but after that I’m going to be watching for how he handles failure. He should get tested pretty good in the Southern League where he is certain to see some solid bats.

    If he struggles for extended periods, he can go one of two ways. First, he can continue to struggle and end up falling off the radar, or he could fine-tune his game, learn from his tough times and get past them so he can move on.

    I suspect, however, that any sustained success for Thomas could very well bring a quick promotion. The M’s won’t wait too long to see if he’s for real or not.

  3. Slack said

    I am really big on Justin Thomas. The think I like most about him is his bulldog mentality. I think that is something the M’s could use a little more of.

  4. Agreed.

    BTW, Nos 1-6 are coming, I promise. I took a few days off while I switched hosts (in order to accomodate some of the cool changes we’ll be able to make this season with the site, i.e., video, audio, and other visual effects)…

    Starting later tonight with No. 6, RHP Chris Tillman.

  5. johnb said

    Jaspn- Is Baek no longer considered a prospect at this time? Hae he turned into more of a journeyman minor leaguer? I ask this because he seemed like he could be a legit option sometime in 2007 if one of the starters falter.

  6. johnb said

    Sorry about the mistypes Jason…anyway I think you understand what I was trying to say.

  7. Baek is no longer a prospect because he has exceeded 50 innings pitched in the big leagues AND 45 days of service prior to Sept 1 in a given year.

    He’s a decent option at the back end of a rotation, including Seattle’s, and is part of the reason why at least one of the little 3 (Weaver, Batista, Ramirez) was not necessary and simply a waste of resources (money, Soriano, though I have heard a lot of people in the game tell me Raffy is having issues throwing 90+ consistently and both the M’s and the Braves KNEW he was having some issues over the winter).

  8. jp17 said

    If these problems turn out to be more serious than expected for Soriano, I’m liking the trade.

    As far as starters go, Ramirez is pretty cheap, but I agree that the 5th spot should have been left wide open to be decided in ST.

    About the only thing it does is increase the depth in case one of the starters go down for any amount of time. Having a Baek and Woods in the rotation wouldn’t be fun.

    I just can’t get too worked up about signing Weaver though. At the point in which he was signed, there was nothing else to spend the money on, and it’s not rolling over into next year.

  9. Your last sentence is the problem with the way the M’s run things, and it’s two fold.

    1 – No Rollover

    NEVER spend the money JUST TO SPEND IT. You’ll almost always find players to hand it to that don’t deserve it. Just because they WON’T take it into the season as part of the contigency money (stupid not to), or into the next year, which i do understand, it doesn’t mean that blowing it on a half-eaten snickers is a good idea.

    2 – The Mariners let the market dictate everything, instead of meeting it halfway or dictating it themselves, like the Dodgers did, for example (Nomar, Schmidt). When they signed Weaver, the market had gone above and beyond what anyone thought it would, so anyone you sign at the END of the free agency period is more expensive, at least in average annual salary, then they would have been at the beginning.

    Sure, Weaver was demanding a 3+ year deal in November rather than the 1 year pact he signed months later, but if you don’t want him at 7×3 in November, how can you justify him at 8.5×1 in January?

  10. jp17 said

    1. Agree, it’s stupid and I suppose that money could be better spent by dumping into locking up players or international scouting.

    2. Schmidt? Didn’t we offer a fairly similar deal to Schmidt? He just seemed to be playing us all along, once again.

    I would say 8.5×1 is better than 7×3, and the justification, in the FO’s mind, was the market going crazy.

    Not that I agree with it. It’s their jobs to forsee such things and plan for it.

    It was pretty much a lousy offseason no matter what happened. Seems we either commit to stupid long term contracts like Soriano, which at least help in the short term….or overpay for middling players. Very few good deals were out there, especially pitchers.

    Schmidt turned out to be reasonable, but I thought we did offer a contract, Dellucci was a nice pickup.

    Overall it was a good time to go young and cheap, and we traded away those who could have made an impact.

  11. StandinPat said

    As far as the offseason goes, it again seems like the M’s dont have a real plan. Weaver at 3×7 is a better deal than the 1×8.5 if you honestly think he is gonna be anywhere close to decent. If the M’s were smart, a frontloaded contract of say 9 or 10 mil this year would then make Weaver a 2×6 next year and a very valuable trade commodity the way FA prices are escalating. Same thing with Ichiro. If they really wanted to keep him, why didnt they sign him to an extension before free agency started? Every year salaries inflate, one signing driving up another. Imagine how much less he could have been signed for before Soriano, and Mathews inked their deals.

  12. But Weaver isn’t WORTH either.

  13. jp17 said

    How many players were worth the money this offseason, not many. Dellucci and Cruz, Jr. would have been a bargain instead of Vidro.

  14. But the point was that they could have had better value, but because they aren’t smart enough to have jumped into the water right away, they end up with mediocre talent for median money.

  15. Edgar said

    Soriano, Snelling, and Fruto were bargains. The trade market is really the place to go if you want good bargains on talent.

  16. It is unless your name is Bill Bavasi and you won’t stand up to your bosses, even though your job is on the line regardless of what you do or say.

  17. JI said

    I think Mussina was worth the money, and that Carpenter will probably be worth the money, but those don’t really count because they are hometown discounts.

    What they did was make the best of a bad situation, albeit one they created. Weaver might not be *worth* it, but frankly he’s a hell of a lot better than Baek or Woods. I think that his addition was the most important of the offseason. It makes contending for .500 (and maybe even the division) a reality.

    What’s really frustrating about this organization is that they have no understanding of freely/cheaply available talent. There are guys you can pick up off the scrap heap that are better than Vidro, Rietsma, Rivera, or Bloomquist, all you have to do is look for them, or in some cases right to your bench. MLB experience must be worth 10-20x the wholesale price.

  18. Edgar said

    I don’t know about the statement “he’s a hell of a lot better than Baek or Woods”. Sure Baek and Woods aren’t good but neither is Weaver. I don’t know who they should have spent their money on instead but our rotation right now has to be the most overpaid collection of guys who are going to be projected to be league average when signing their huge contracts (Felix aside).

  19. taro said

    JAC,

    How is Thomas’ work ethic? Is a smart ballplayer? A student of the game?

  20. Thomas is a pretty good worker by all acounts. I don’t have enough information on it to call him a true student of the game, but he gets pretty high marks from his coaches and teammates about his mental toughness.

    He’s not a lughead, either, so I’d say he’s probably on the smarter side of the stitches.

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