When the minor league season begins it will be an important one for Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Tahnaj Thomas
While CBA negotiations continue to rage on with less and less hope by the day that the Major League Baseball season will start on time, minor league camp is underway for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the rest of baseball. Even if MLB’s season does not start on time due to the current lockout the minor league will still begin as previously scheduled.
When the minor league season begins a pitcher in the Pirate farm system who has an important season ahead of them is righty Tahnaj Thomas. The former top-100 prospect is coming off a poor 2021 season that led to him plummeting down prospect rankings. Now he finds himself in need of re-establishing himself as a premiere pitching prospect of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Last season Thomas made 16 starts for the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers. In his first taste of professional baseball above rookie-level Thomas posted a 5.19 ERA and a 6.49 FIP. His 22.1% strikeout rate was down from his near 30% strikeout rate in 2019 and his walk rate rose to 12.5%.
Control has always been one of hate biggest concerns with Thomas. FanGraphs gives his command a future value of just 35 and his control issues were on full display last season. Thomas also struggled to limit the home run ball in 2021 allowing home runs at a rate of 1.93 HR/9.
After his struggles Thomas dropped form being a top 10 prospect in the Pirate system and a top 100 prospect at FanGraphs to being ranked 52nd in their farm system. His future value dropped from a 50, which projected him to be a middle-of-the rotation arm in the majors, to 35+, which projects him to fall in the backend starter/long reliever while being an up-and-down player between the majors and minors category.
The Pittsburgh Pirates also left Thomas unprotected from the Rule 5 Draft earlier this offseason. This could mean that the Pirates do not believe he would be selected due to his struggles last season, would not be upset to lose Thomas in the draft, or a combination of the two. Regardless of their reasoning, the Pirates did not see the need to protect Thomas with a 40-man roster spot.
Even though the Rule 5 Draft did not take place in December as usual due to the lockout it has been expected all along that the draft would still take place when the lockout ends. As the lockout continues to drag on it remains to be seen if this will be the case, but when the Pittsburgh Pirates made the decision to not protect Thomas the expectation was that the Rule 5 Draft would eventually take place and that Thomas would be exposed.
Al of this sets up 2022 to be an important season for Thomas. Not only will he be looking to re-establish his value as a prospect, but the 2022 season could also go a long way toward determining if the long-term role for Thomas is as a starting pitcher or as a relief pitcher.
The two biggest issues for Thomas last season were poor control and allowing too many home runs. The easiest way for any pitcher to fix each of these issues is to move to a relief role. A move to the bullpen may be what is best for Thomas especially with him struggling to develop a third pitch to go with his fastball and slider.
Thomas will turn 23-years-old in June and will likely start the season with either Double-A Altoona or back at Greensboro. If Thomas continues to struggle it would not be a surprise to see him move to a relief role at some point this season. This is a role in which Thomas could excel if the move is made. Regardless of how things shake out, the 2022 season will be an important one for Thomas and will go a long way toward determining if his future is as a reliever or as a starting pitcher.