July 6, 2022

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What to expect from Alek Thomas

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Only one organization has three position players ranked among MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 overall prospects — the Arizona Diamondbacks. The highest-ranked name on that list is officially taking his talents to downtown Phoenix.

On Sunday, the D-backs called up No. 18 overall prospect Alek Thomas to the Majors for his debut in Arizona’s home game against the Rockies, the club confirmed. Thomas is batting eighth and starting in center field in the Mother’s Day matinee. The promotion comes following catcher Carson Kelly’s move to the 10-day injured list with a strained left oblique.

Thomas, a left-handed batter, was hitting .277/.362/.495 with four homers and three stolen bases over 24 games with Triple-A Reno before the callup. Those recent numbers are solid but only tell part of the tale of Thomas’ dominance in the Pacific Coast League over the past two seasons. Since Aug. 16, 2021 (the day of his Triple-A debut), Thomas leads qualified Triple-A hitters with a .332 average and 83 hits while ranking third with a .996 OPS and fifth with a .592 slugging percentage.

A slight word of caution: those numbers may have been inflated by a hitter-friendly park in Reno; Thomas batted .388 with a 1.174 OPS over 147 plate appearances in Aces home games compared to his .267 average and .792 OPS away over 135 PA on the road. Nine of his 12 Triple-A homers came at Greater Nevada Field.

Even so, Thomas, who just turned 22 on April 28, has exhibited qualities that make him project as a plus overall hitter no matter the conditions since the D-backs selected him in the second round in 2018. The Chicago native — and son of former White Sox strength and conditioning director Allen Thomas — is a career .309 hitter in the Minor Leagues, thanks to a compact left-handed swing that leads to quality contact all over the diamond. Case in point: Thomas’ pull rate this season (40.0 percent) was nearly equal to his percentage of balls sent to the opposite field (38.8).

Additionally, the D-backs noted that Thomas showed an improved approach in 2021, and he’s built on that this spring with nearly equal walk (11.2 percent) and strikeout (13.8) rates — the latter of which is well below the Triple-A average of 23.4 percent.

Once thought to be an average power hitter, Thomas shows enough raw strength these days to project for above-average pop at the top level and could challenge for 20 homers in the Majors at his peak. His Minor League career high is 18, set last season.

There’s a chance Thomas could fall in line with the likes of Bobby Witt Jr., Julio Rodríguez and Spencer Torkelson as a rookie who struggles with the bat out of the gate despite his considerable offensive gifts. Even so, his plus speed and impressive outfield glovework should provide immediate value to Arizona upon his arrival.

The speedster stole at least 12 bags in each of his first three Minor League seasons and is a threat to pick up an extra base on any ball hit to the outfield. His 13 triples over the last two seasons rank second in the Minors.

Thomas uses those wheels to great effect on the grass, where he combines speed and impressive instincts to track down balls with relative ease. His defense was actually the stuff of legend before he entered pro ball. Speaking to MiLB.com in March 2019, Allen Thomas recounted a time when his 18-year-old son was supposed to be tracking balls in the outfield as a guest at White Sox Spring Training camp, only for him to turn in a highlight-worthy snag at the wall.

“That almost got him kicked off the field forever,” Allen said at the time. “I don’t know if you’d say he was embarrassing the other outfielders, but it was clear at that time that kid was, for sure, capable of playing in the big leagues as a defender at that point.”

That grab was four years ago. On Sunday — and for the foreseeable future in Arizona — Thomas will prove just how Major League-ready he is, all while giving D-backs fans a glimpse of what could be a much brighter future ahead.

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