One of the more interesting Rule 5 choices the Pittsburgh Pirates have is with Tahnaj Thomas. Should they protect the flamethrowing right-hander?
The Pittsburgh Pirates will, very soon, have to make a bunch of roster decisions regarding the Rule 5 draft. The deadline to finalize 40-man rosters is coming up on the 19th. So the Bucs will need to choose a handful of players. Now guys like Liover Peguero, Travis Swaggerty, Mason Martin, Canaan Smith-Njigba, and Omar Cruz are almost certainly going to earn 40-man spots, but there are going to be a few tough choices. One of those will be Tahnaj Thomas.
The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Thomas back in the 2018-2019 offseason from the Cleveland Indians. In exchange, they sent off outfielder Jordan Luplow and infielder Max Moroff. Thomas looked really good in his first innings in the Pirates’ farm system. In 48.1 innings with Bristol, Thomas fired for a 3.17 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and 1.11 WHIP. He struck out batters at a phenomenal 29.7% rate while having a solid 7% walk rate and 0.93 HR/9.
This past season, however, Thomas struggled with the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers. He pitched just 60.2 innings, posting a 5.19 ERA, 6.49 FIP, and 1.58 WHIP. Thomas saw his strikeout rate drop to just 22.1% and his walk rate flew up to 12.5%. Plus home runs were a massive issue for him. His HR/9 added an entire home run from 2019, spiking to 1.93. Thomas’ struggles also came from an increased line-drive rate, going from 20.7% to 24.7%. Meanwhile, his ground ball rate fell from 40.5% to 35.6%.
Thomas’s fastball is clearly his big selling point. He can throw it into the triple digits with regularity and it’s been given an 80-grade by FanGraphs. But he also has an excellent slider. His change-up needs some work, but if he can get it to an average level, it could be the difference between him being in the rotation or bullpen.
So why should the Pittsburgh Pirates protect Thomas? Well, for one, he’d almost certainly be selected in the draft. The right-hander has a four-seam fastball that can reach into the triple-digits. Regardless of his struggles with command, regardless of his performance last season, no team won’t pass on the opportunity to acquire a right-hander who touches 100 MPH frequently for free, essentially.
Now, the thing is, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have a ton of other Rule 5 Draft decisions. Lolo Sanchez, Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell, Abrahan Gutierrez, Eddy Yean, Cody Bolton, Santiago Florez, Yerry De Los Santos, and Michell Millano are the other notable Rule 5 eligible players in the Pirates’ system. Now granted, they probably won’t protect all of them, but there are at least a few in there that have a good chance of making the 40-man roster.
Though the Pirates will have the opportunity to open up many roster spots for Thomas. Anthony Banda, Eric Hanhold, Sam Howard, Cody Ponce, Duane Underwood Jr., Taylor Davis, Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker, and Jared Oliva are all potential DFA candidates. Even with the amount of Rule 5 eligible players they will add, they’ll remove a handful as well.
I think the Pirates should try their best to get Thomas on the 40-man roster. While he may not be among the likes of Quinn Priester and Roansy Contreras as a guy with ace potential, the roster spot is worth more than losing him for free. The Pirates could likely find a spot for him on the roster somewhere. Even if all he turns into is a relief pitcher, again, it’s better to protect him in the long run than lose him now for nothing.