- Rating: 5.63
- 2022 stats:113 games, .231/.275/.344, 8 HR, 39 RBI, 76 OPS+, 1.4 bWAR
- Date of birth: April 28, 2000 (22 years old)
- 2022 earnings: pro-rated league minimum
- 2023 status: On 40-man roster, pre-arbitration
On May 8th this year, Alek Thomas became the first player born in the two thousands to play for the Diamondbacks. Yes: he was just eighteen months old when Arizona won the World Series. I hope that make you feel as old as it makes me feel. The debut was slightly less than three years after the team picked Thomas in the second round of the 2018 draft, out of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago. He made an immediate impression, batting .333 across our two rookie affiliates that year, and followed it up by batting .300 between A-ball and High-A the next year. That, along with a Futures Game appearance in 2019, got him into most Top 100 prospects lists for 2020, before that minor-league season was lost.
When things resumed, Thomas again split time between two levels, beginning 2021 in AA, before moving up to Triple-A, where he batted .369 with a 1.051 - though obvious Reno skepticism applies. Being the team’s top prospect preseason, wasn’t quite enough to get Alek onto the D-backs’ Opening Day roster, and he began 2022 with the Aces. However, barely a month on the season, a roster spot opened up when Carson Kelly went on the injured list, and Thomas got the call. He got the start against the Rockies, doubling of Geman Marquez in his second trip to the plate. Alek stayed up, even after Kelly’s return, becoming the team’s everyday CF, his 112 games there more than twice as many as anybody else.
There were some spectacular highlights, including getting his first major-league home-run off Sandy Alcantara, who’d go on to with the NL Cy Young award. But he also had his share of struggles. Indeed, Thomas definitely appeared to wear down as the season went on, as can be seen by the stats below.
After a very solid May, Thomas’s OPS declined every month the rest of the way. Sometimes only by a little, but he seemed to fall off a cliff down the stretch. From August 7th on, Thomas hit just .176 with a .397 OPS. His plate discipline also evaporated entirely, drawing only three walks over his final 136 plate-appearances. Part of the problem was Thomas’s shortage of well-struck pitches. He was down in the 12th percentile of hitters for barrels, and not much better (21%) for all hard-hit balls. But an encouraging factor was Thomas’s ability to hit the ball to all parts of the field. His pull figure (32%) was little more than his opposite-field numbers (29%), as can be see in the chart below:
This has been a focus for Thomas early in the season after his promotion. That said, there’s still a cluster of outs on the right-hand side of the infield, which suggest Thomas might benefit a bit from the banning of the shift next year. However, it wasn’t enough to save Alek from being optioned back to the Aces right at the end of the season, when Jake McCarthy came back from the bereavement list. At the time, Torey Lovullo said Thomas had been “expanding the zone, trying to cover everything: high, low, in and out. We are encouraging him to shrink up the zone, and have a better feel for an opposite field approach and stay on the baseball.”
Thomas’s OPS+ of 76 is clearly something which leaves room for improvement, but his overall value remained significantly above replacement level, in part to solid defensive work. While there were what could charitable be described as rookie mistakes, his elite speed, up in the 95th percentile, helped him track down balls that others might not get close to. This left his Outs Above Average also up in the 92nd percentile. Below, you’ll find a highlight reel including some of his best plays, as well as his first home-run, longest home-run, first triple, and hardest hit of the season for Thomas.
At this point, it’s not certain whether Thomas will even be a Diamondback next year. His name is one which has perhaps come up more than any other, save perhaps Daulton Varsho, in trade rumblings. However, the question would be whether the team might be selling low on Thomas, whose stock has certainly dropped since the pre-season #1 prospect ranking mentioned above. The slump and subsequent demotion will not have gone unnoticed. Whether dealing Thomas makes sense, will likely depend on whether or not the team views the flaws in his offensive approach as fixable. If so, then holding on to Thomas makes sense, but if not, then he should be dealt before his value falls further.
Given the current roster make-up, however, he’ll be competing for playing time with Varsho, McCarthy and Corbin Carroll, the other two thousands kid to debut for the D-backs last season. Defensively, I would call him the best option for center. However, he is going to have to hit considerably better than he did over the last couple of months in 2022, for that not to be outweighed by the offensive problems. As noted, the lack of shift may help, and Thomas’s speed will too (a full one-quarter of his hits this year were infield ones, the highest fraction on the team). Yet a situation where he again isn’t on the Opening Day roster remains plausible, and that’s if Alek is still with Arizona.