The Pittsburgh Pirates have one of the fastest rising pitching prospects in baseball. However, he is ranked lower on MLB Pipeline than other prospect sites.
During the offseason prior to the 2019 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates made a five player trade with the Cleveland Indians. While it was a large trade, it flew under the headlines as Erik Gonzalez and Jordan Luplow were the primary pieces exchanged.
However, there were also teenage pitching prospects coming back to the Pittsburgh Pirates in Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza. Both were projectable, right-handed starting pitchers who were considered to be really raw, but had potential. Thomas specifically was already on FanGraphs’ top 30 Cleveland Indians prospect list at number 26 in 2018.
There were definitely a few reasons to be intrigued by Thomas. The scouting report on him was that he already had a mid 90s fastball and stood at 6’4”. Neal Huntington deserves credit for this trade because Thomas is quickly turning into one of the faster rising prospects in baseball. Thomas now has a fastball that hits triple digits to go along with a plus slider. Also, he dominated short-season ball last year posting a 3.17 ERA and an 11.00 K/9 in his 48.1 innings pitched.
With such an impressive season, Thomas started to get more recognition as a pitching prospect. He started to appear on Pittsburgh Pirates top prospects lists and by the end of the season, he entered their top 15 prospects. A quick climb for the now 20-year-old.
FanGraphs is really bullish on Tahnaj Thomas. They ranked him as the Pittsburgh Pirates fifth best prospect entering the 2020 season. Meanwhile, Baseball America has him ranked at number six overall in their most recent update. That leaves MLB Pipeline, who is a bit lower on Thomas than the other sites, writing:
"“Thomas’ priority in 2020 will be the use of his secondary pitches, especially that slider. It’s rare for a conversion guy to end up as a starter, but the Pirates don’t want to rule it out given the progress he’s made”"
The team at MLB Pipeline has their reservations for two main reasons. The first is that he played a different position growing up. He does not have a lot of experience on the mound. Because of that, Thomas’ mechanics and secondary pitches are inconsistent. The second concern stems from the first concern, will Thomas have the consistency to start? He throws really hard and has improved his control, but loose mechanics and hit-or-miss secondary stuff may project better in the bullpen.
However, Thomas has made strides each year in terms of his command. Every year of his professional career Thomas has seen his walk-rate drop significantly. In 2018, his walks per nine were at a somewhat alarming 4.63. This past season he nearly cut that in half and posted an impressive 2.61 walks per nine. Overall his base on balls allowed percentage has gone from 19.0 percent in 2017 to 12.5 percent in 2018 and and finally to 7.0 percent this past season.
This is why FanGraphs and Baseball America are higher on Thomas than MLB Pipeline. As Thomas gains more experience on the mound, he will only get better. I am sure he has made big strides in refining his mechanics over the last few seasons and will continue to do so. If Thomas can continue to aim for consistency in his mechanics then he should have no problem developing as a starter. A 101 mile per hour fastball should help too.