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