When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded outfielder Jordan Luplow and infielder Max Moroff to the Cleveland Indians in 2018, the believed that the key player they received in return in the deal was utility man Erik Gonzalez. However, as time has progressed, it appears that right-handed pitching prospect Tahnaj Thomas could represent the best player involved in the deal.
Currently ranked as the number five overall prospect in the Pirates organization by Baseball America, Thomas is the organization’s third-best pitching prospect, ranking only behind top overall prospect Mitch Keller, and last year’s first-round draft pick Quinn Priester.
Thomas was originally signed in 2016 by Cleveland, out of the Bahamas for $200,000, as an international free agent shortstop/third base prospect. However, the Indians quickly recognized that he had more potential as a pitcher than an infielder. As a result, he made the conversion to the mound with the Indians during the 2017 season.
Despite not having any formal experience as a pitcher, Thomas flashed raw talent in the role. He possesses a plus fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and reaches 98 miles per hour on occasion. Also, his fastball has late movement up in the zone.
Thomas also features a wipeout slider that he consistently throws in the low-to-mid-80’s. His slider is deceptive and elusive. He has also recently added a changeup, with late break to it, that has the potential to become above average with some work.
Currently, Thomas has progressed well for a player who just started pitching two seasons ago. He struggles at times with throwing strikes with consistency but is improving on the repeatability of his mechanics, which has led to better command.
Featuring a rock-and-step delivery that is similar to that of Cleveland’s ace pitcher Mike Clevinger, Thomas has been able to dramatically improve his delivery, which is allowing for improved results, even though he remains an extremely raw pitching prospect.
Last season saw Thomas take a major step forward in his progression, as he became a much more polished pitcher. The result was him being named as the Pittsburgh Pirates Breakout Prospect of the Year award winner.
Last season playing rookie ball for the Bristol Pirates, the 20-year-old Thomas started 12 games, throwing 48 1⁄3 innings, with 59 strikeouts, 14 walks, an earned run average of 3.17 and a WHIP of 1.117.
Given his relative inexperience as a pitcher, the Pirates have to be pleased with his high strikeout and low walk ratios. Last season he struck out 10.99 batters per nine innings or 29.5% of the batters he faced.
Meanwhile, Thomas walked only 2.61 batters per nine innings or 7% of the batters he faced. In addition to excellent strikeout to walk ratios, Thomas was able to limit damage from opposing batters, holding them to a .217 batting average.
Despite not being a top-30 prospect in the Indians organization at the time of the Luplow trade, Thomas has progressed rapidly while with the Pirates, accounting for his meteoric rise within their prospect rankings.
At 6’4” and 190-pounds, Thomas has an athletic, lanky frame that would allow for him to put on additional mass as he matures. Doing so may allow him to increase the velocity of his fastball, bringing it near or above the triple digits on the radar gun. If he can increase his velocity, it will make his pitching arsenal that much more dangerous, especially when combined with him refining his raw skill set.
If Thomas can stick as a starter, he projects as a player who can be a number two or three starting pitcher in the rotation. Some experts feel his blazing fastball and wipeout slider project him more as a late-inning reliever who has the stuff and makeup to be dominant in the role.
Where Thomas ends up will ultimately be predicated on his progression in the minors. Currently, he is expected to begin the year with the Pirates Low-A minor league affiliate Greensboro Grasshoppers and is not expected to make the majors until 2022.
The results of his first full season in the minors will go a long way in determining what the future holds for Thomas. If he can further improve upon his raw talent in his new position, the sky may be the limit for the young righty who is now the treasured piece of the 2018 deal with the Indians.