Tahnaj Thomas, RHP, PIT

Can you dream of great things? There are times looking at a pitching prospect where you can see greatness in his future, but it’s a future that is far into the distance, with many obstacles in the way.

Video courtesy of FanGraphs
  • Born: June 16, 1999
  • B/T: Left/Left
  • 6’4″, 190-lbs
  • Drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 2017, traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019

The Numbers

His raw numbers are listed above courtesy of baseball-reference.com. Let’s aggregate by year then focus on the important numbers for minor leaguers:

The first thing I see on this chart is that Thomas has never risen about the Rookie level. He was traded to Pittsburgh and put on their Rookie-level team, and the results there were pretty terrific, so he should begin 2020 on the A-ball level.

It is especially encouraging to see that BB% trend. It’s not green yet, but it dropped almost in half from the previous season. The K% rate was already great, and maintained greatness. The WHIP is now solidly in decent territory.

Too early to determine what his trends are, but with the Pirates Rookie team he was particularly effective against lefties, and his WHIP against righties is something to watch going forward.

In 2018 with the Indians Arizona League team, he was a heavy groundball pitcher. In 2019 with the Pirates Bristol Rookie team, he was a flyball pitcher. Different parks, different leagues, a young pitcher learning? It’s something to keep our eyes on to see what he will do.

The home runs are being pulled by those righties, and so are the doubles. Again, we need to see him improve against right-handed bats.

Looking in the BaseballHQ.com Minor League Baseball Analyst book, we see that Thomas has three pitches in his arsenal:

That fastball is all that and then some. In 2018 he was hitting 96, but in 2019 he reached triple digits with it, and it is truly a plus pitch that he can spot to both sides of the plate. With that increased velocity, he was able to pitch up in the zone, and perhaps that explains his increased fly ball tendency last year.

His best secondary pitch is is low-80s slider that he has been able to throw more consistently so that it is now an average offering.

His changeup is lacking. You can dominate Rookie ball with a fastball, but you need a third pitch to reach your ceiling at a starter in the upper levels.

The Scouts

Warnings

He’s 20 years old and only at the Rookie ball level.

He needs that changeup improved.

He needs to show that his improved control and strikeout ability will work at AA, let alone A-ball.

Conclusion

Tahnaj Thomas is already a success story. An infielder in his native Bahamas, the Indians liked his arm and converted him to pitcher. That’s why he’s been at Rookie ball so long — he is literally learning to pitch. And certainly in 2019 it all came together so that he started dominating at that level. The Pirates got a good arm, and Thomas came through for him after they traded for him.

He’s 6’4″ and only 190, so more weight will follow, and as scary as that sounds, more velocity too. That fastball is truly plus. So if his secondary pitches don’t develop, he could be a force in the pen. But Pittsburgh wants him to start, and for that to work he needs that third pitch.

Well, that’s what A-ball is for: developing pitches. He’s only 20, there’s time to see if this experiment works. If it does, he could be a #3 starter by 2023. If it doesn’t, he could be Aroldis Chapman for a new decade.

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