Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects 2021 Season Recap: Tahnaj Thomas


In his first season at the High-A level Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Tahnaj Thomas faced adversity with the Grasshoppers in 2021

One of the more overlooked trades made in the later stages of the Neal Huntington Era took place in November 2018. This trade saw the Pittsburgh Pirates send utility man Max Moroff and first base/outifelder Jordan Luplow to the Cleveland Indians.

The primary player the Pittsburgh Pirates received in return for Moroff and Luplow was infielder Erik González who was expected to become the team’s starting shortstop in 2019. However, the Pirates also received a pair of prospects from Cleveland in the trade. One of these prospects is right-handed pitcher Tahnaj Thomas.

FanGraphs currently ranks Thomas as the 7th best prospect in the Pirate farm system and the 90th best in all of baseball. This is due to a fastball (70 future value) and slider (50 future value) combination that has the potential to be lethal. Overall, FanGraphs gives Thomas a FV of 50, which means they project him to be, at worst, a middle of the rotation starting pitcher at the Major League level.

During the 2021 season Thomas made the jump to the High-A level. This came after never pitching at the Low-A level, which was a result of there not being a minor league season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thomas made 16 starts for the Grasshoppers in 2021 and pitched 60.2 innings. This was a new career high in both starts and innings pitched for the 22-year-old Bahamas native. Both of these numbers could have been greater, however, he spent the final two weeks of the regular season, as well as the postseason. If not for this IL trip, odds are, Thomas would have made at least a 3 additional starts for the Grasshoppers in 2021.

In his 60.2 innings pitched Thomas posted a 5.19 ERA and a 6.49 FIP. He walked 12.5% of batters faced, to go with hitting 5 batters and throwing 6 wild pitches, and struck out 22.1%. He allowed line drives to opposing batters at a 24.7% rate.

The most concerning number for Thomas was his walk rate. When it comes to Thomas and his development the two biggest questions have always been his control, his command has just a 35 FV per FanGraphs, and ability to develop a third pitch.

Thomas was also hurt by allowing too many fly balls and in turn home runs this past season. The young righty was burnt by a 1.93 HR/9 during the 2021 season. A big factor in his high home run rate was that Thomas allowed fly balls at a 39.7% rate, his highest since his first pro season back in 2017, which led to a home run/fly ball rate of 18.8%. By increasing his 35.6% ground ball rate Thomas would lower his fly ball rate and, in turn, likely find more success in 2022.

Thomas was able to flash his potential at times in 2021. He made 6 starts in which he allowed 1 earned run or less, and he struck out at least 5 batters in 3 of these 6 starts. He had a total of 6 starts in which he struck out at least 5 batters during the 2021 season.

Moving forward it will be interesting to see what the Pittsburgh Pirates do with Thomas. While he is a highly rated prospects he is also a prospect with a potentially high bust rate. If he continues to struggle with control and developing a third pitch, then, odds are, Thomas is destined for the bullpen.

A potential move to the bullpen should not be looked at as the end for Thomas, however. Thomas has the pure stuff with his fastball/slider combination to be a very good high-leverage reliever. This could also help cut down on his home run issue.

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When the 2022 season begins it would not be a surprise to see Thomas begin the season back at Greensboro due to some of the struggles he experienced in 2021. It also would not be a surprise to see him start the season with Double-A Altoona. Either way, Thomas will be one of the more intriguing pitching prospects for fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates to watch in 2022.