Pittsburgh Pirates: Five Surprising Prospects This Season

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Pittsburgh Pirates
Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports /

Tahnaj Thomas

Among the minor leaguers we’ll look at today, Tahnaj Thomas is the highest-ranked prospect. At one point, Thomas was a top 100 prospect. Thomas was consistently among FanGraphs’ highest-ranked prospects, reaching their top 100 list on four separate occasions. But after 2021, there were more questions than answers for Thomas.

In 60.2 innings for Greensboro, Thomas had a 5.19 ERA, 6.49 FIP, and 1.58 WHIP. For a guy with overpowering stuff, Thomas struck out just 22.1% of the batters he faced while giving up a walk 12.5% of the time. But despite that, neither of those was his biggest weakness. Thomas had an HR/9 rate approaching 2.0, coming in at 1.93. This caused Thomas to plummet across all prospect boards.

After his promotion to Altoona, Thomas has seemingly figured things out as a reliever. He’s only made one start while pitching 48.1 innings, working to the tune of a 2.98 ERA, 3.36 FIP, and 1.28 WHIP. The home runs he struggled with so much in 2021 have been a non-issue for him, with a .53 HR/9. The walk rate has gone down to just 9.3%, while his  strikeout rate has risen to 25%.

But most of Thomas’ good work has been done since the outset of summer. Since June 1st, Thomas has had elite numbers. Those include a 1.85 ERA, 2.25 FIP, and 1.06 WHIP. Thomas has surrendered a single home run in his last 36 innings of work while striking out nearly 30% of batters faced (29.6%). His 6.7% walk rate is excellent as well.

Thomas is still working in the mid-90s while hitting the upper-90s regularly. He’s also greatly improved his slider. He’s always been a two-pitch pitcher whose change-up was a distant third pitch, but now that he’s fully embraced the high-leverage reliever role, he’s done more than excel. He’s arguably the Pirates’ best relief pitching prospect.

Thomas’ 2022 season is the least surprising among the names we’ll talk about today. It’s always been a question if Thomas could harness the talent and power in his arm rather than if he had the talent and power. But Thomas’ massive decrease in walks is a big surprise, and his transition to the bullpen has been extremely smooth. At this rate, we may see him setting up games for David Bednar sometime in 2023.