Blake Cederlind is still a major question mark, but Tahnaj Thomas is much less of an unknown commodity. Still, considering the players the Pirates have right now on the 40-man roster, the fact that Thomas has been left off for two Rule 5 draft cycles and picked neither time, to me, makes him somewhat of an underrated pitching prospect. He’s a relief pitcher, but one with plenty of potential.
Thomas was previously used as a starting pitcher but made the full transition to the bullpen last year. The first two months in his new role weren’t great. He allowed nine earned runs while walking ten batters in his first 14.1 innings of the year. He also only had 11 K’s and surrendered two home runs. But by the time June rolled around, Thomas fully settled in.
Across his next 36.1 innings, Thomas worked to a 1.98 ERA, 2.70 FIP, and 1.05 WHIP. Walks, which had previously been a massive weakness for Thomas, all of a sudden became a non-issue. His BB% was cut to just 6.9%. Home runs had also been something Thomas had struggled with, but the right-hander’s 0.69 HR/9 rate was well above average. Not only was he limiting walks and home runs, but he struck out 28.5% of opponents faced.
Thomas throws hard, topping out in the triple-digits, and he pairs that with a plus-plus slider. Thomas may have dominated in the lower-level minor leagues, but once he started to face higher-level competition, he started to struggle because of his lack of a third offering. His change-up is rarely used below-average pitch. But two plus-plus offerings will do for a reliever.
Even if Thomas’ command (ability to locate) isn’t pinpointed, both it and his control (ability to limit walks) have improved. FanGraphs even states that he’s throwing a “surprising amount of strikes.” It’s shocking he wasn’t taken in the Rule 5 Draft. He seems like the most prototypical Rule 5 pitcher: hard thrower with a good breaking ball but some command issues. Sure, there’s plenty of risk, but what Rule 5 pick has no risk? Regardless, I think Thomas could find himself as a set-up man by the end of the year.