It’s time to start looking at all the fun young players on the AA Tennessee Smokies, starting with one of my favorites, Tony Thomas. Thomas was the Cubs’ third round pick in the 2007 draft, and has advanced through the system at a fairly quick pace. After a somewhat down 2009 season, Thomas repeated AA in 2010, and the results are excellent.
In his age 23 season, playing mostly second base, Thomas had his best full season of professional baseball. Thomas’ slash line of .276/.338/.485/.823 was almost an across the board improvement, with just a four point drop in OBP. He also piled up the extra base hits, with 29 doubles, 11 triples, and 11 home runs.
The upgrade in power is the encouraging development from Thomas this season, his home run total is equal to last year, but he had five more doubles and 10 more triples. The high triple total, along with 15 stolen bases in 17 attempts, give us a glimpse at Thomas’ speed. He does have pretty good speed, and it appears he figured out how to steal bases this season. In 2009 he had 13 steals and was caught 13 times, he was caught 10 times in 2008. This year, he limited his steal attempts, but raised his efficiency through the roof. If he can ultimately raise his steal total without compromising that efficiency, awesome, if not, a 20 steal guy on the Cubs would be a small miracle anyway.
Thomas’ issue at the plate is strikeouts, though he is getting a little better. He struck out 100 times this season, after having 113 in 2008, and 106 in 2009. As long as the extra base hits are coming, the strikeouts aren’t big issue, and it seems as though Thomas has been able to remain a productive hitter despite striking out a lot. That isn’t always the case, and tends to be the downfall of many hitters in the minor leagues. His walk totals are low as well, just 34 this season, though that is acceptable as well, as long as he keeps the slugging percentage high.
Another issue, and it’s one that will be repeated for many of this season’s Smokies, is Thomas’ home/road splits. Thomas had a .953 OPS at home and a .702 OPS on the road. Something odd has been happening at Tennessee all season, and Thomas’ numbers demonstrate that. He did split his home runs and triples between both home and road games, but still, very concerning. I would say this is why he needs to play in AAA next season, though he has earned that promotion as well. Even in Iowa, the PCL is an extreme hitters league, but at least we can see Thomas play in a new home park.
When he was drafted out of college, there were questions about Thomas’ defense at second base, but I’m not so sure those questions still linger. He did make 14 errors at second this season, but that was an improvement over 17 from 2009. Total Zone rated his 2008 season in Daytona +19 at second, and 2009 as +2. It would appear that, at the very least, he’s a slightly above average defense player.
Thomas is inching closer to the major leagues, and the progress he made with the bat this season is fantastic. He should probably get a chance to start at Iowa next season, with an eye on him joining the Cubs in 2012. He isn’t a future superstar, but his numbers this season would make him a very productive second baseman, something the Cubs have been looking for the last few years. He’s certainly the top second base prospect in the system right now, though he isn’t dealing with a ton of competition.