This right-handed pitcher is quickly rising in the Pittsburgh Pirates prospect rankings, but his future role is still unclear
Last off-season, the Pittsburgh Pirates made a trade with the Cleveland Indians that didn’t seem very significant for either teams. The Pirates sent farmhands Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff to Cleveland in exchange for utility man Erik Gonzalez and pitching prospects Dante Mendoza and Tahnaj Thomas.
Not only has the trade proved to be very productive for the Indians, as Luplow hit for a .923 OPS and 136 OPS+ in 261 plate appearances last season, but Thomas has risen to become one of the Pirates’ best pitching prospects.
But we’re not here to talk about Luplow. We’re hear to take a look at and breakdown Thomas.
Before coming to the Pirates, Thomas has struggled through his first two professional seasons. In 2017, he had a 5.63 ERA, 1.85 WHIP and 4.44 FIP in his first 38.1 pro innings. He showed improvement in 2018, raising his K/9 to 12.4, lowering his BB/9 to 4.6 and his WHIP to 1.17, but he still gave up 10 earned runs through 19.2 innings.
In 2019, the now Pirate prospect broke out big time. Thomas pitched in 48.1 innings, striking out 59 batters and walking just 14 (resulting in a 2.6 BB/9). Thomas’ ERA dropped to 3.17, while his FIP went to 3.67. Thomas’ WHIP dropped a few more ticks down to 1.12. He also gave up just five home runs during his time with short-season Bristol.
Entering 2020, Thomas may not project as a starter long term. Currently, he works with two pitches, although they are very good ones. FanGraphs gives his fastball a 60 grade with a future of 70 which sits in the mid-90’s, and his slider a 50 grade with a future of 60. His slider has some biting action to it, according to Baseball Savant’s scouting report. Thomas does occasionally throw in a change up to mix things up, but it isn’t too highly praised. FanrGaphs gives it a 45/50 grade. Right now, it’s not a pitch you would want him to rely on as his primary third pitch.
However, Thomas is still only 20 years old. The highest level he has reached is Rookie Ball last season with the Pirates in Bristol. Thomas needs to develop another pitch, and he has plenty of time to incorporate something like a curveball to his repertoire. He could also try to improve his change up to add that effective third pitch to his arsenal.
Currently, Thomas ranks as the Pirates 20th best prospect according to MLB.com, but FanGraphs gives him a much brighter outlook. Currently, he is their 78th best prospect in all of baseball. That’s higher than prospects who are considered elite like Dodgers’ catching prospect Keibert Ruiz (88th), Cardinals newly acquired prospect Matthew Libretore (94th), and Braves pitcher Kyle Wright (95th).
Projecting Thomas is a bit tricky. When he was signed he was considered very raw, but extremely talented. However, Thomas has the potential to blossom in whatever role he is in by the time he is Major League ready. He has the fastball and movement pitch to be an extremely effective relief pitcher. While he may never be an ace, he could be a surprisingly good starter. That is, if he can develop another pitch and/or improve his change up. At his ceiling, he could be a mid-tier to high-end number three starter. But that is going to heavily rely on his ability to develop his other pitches.