2024 Will be pivotal for Arizona Diamondbacks' outfielder Alek Thomas

Alek Thomas has underperformed thus far in his MLB career, but 2024 could end up being a make-or-break season for the Diamondbacks' centerfielder.

World Series - Arizona Diamondbacks v Texas Rangers - Game Two
World Series - Arizona Diamondbacks v Texas Rangers - Game Two / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

Alek Thomas was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ second-round pick in the 2018 MLB draft. Thomas steadily made his way up through the minor leagues, becoming one of the best prospects in baseball by the early-2020s. He was a consensus top 50 prospect across all prospect boards by the start of 2022. But Thomas has yet to show the hitting potential that made him such a high-ranking prospect in the D-Backs’ system. Now heading into his third MLB campaign, the 2024 season will be pivotal for Thomas.

Over the last two seasons, Thomas has batted a meager .230/.274/.359 with a .275 wOBA and 72 wRC+ in 813 plate appearances. Thomas has an above-average 19.7% strikeout rate, but that’s about where all the positives end with the stick. He has walked just 5% of the time with a .128 isolated slugging percentage. To Thomas’ credit, he has shown off the raw power as he had an 88.9 MPH exit velocity and 41% hard-hit rate in 2023. But he’s not been able to capitalize on his strength. His career launch angle is just 2.4 degrees, leading to a massive 56.8% ground ball rate.

Unfortunately, Thomas has been one of the most unproductive batters in the last two seasons. There are 177 batters with at least 800 plate appearances between 2022 and 2023. Thomas ranks in the bottom five in wRC+ (3rd lowest), wOBA (5th lowest), and has the 7th lowest OPS. While Thomas has been an unproductive batter the last two years, his glove and base running have been positives.

Thomas has racked up +11 defensive runs saved and +12 outs above average in centerfield over his two MLB seasons. He may not have a cannon on his shoulder, but his throws from the outfield are average to above average. Thomas has sat around the 90th percentile of sprint speed while having +7 base running run value per Baseball Savant.

2024 will be pivotal for the soon-to-be 24-year-old for a few reasons. The first is that he’s going into his third season. How many more seasons of a regular batter with a sub-80 wRC+ are the Diamondbacks going to put up with? Career 4th outfielder Jake Marisnick has a higher wRC+ than Alek Thomas in the last three seasons. If the Diamondbacks are serious about competing, they can’t keep trotting out a guy who is producing like a 4th outfielder.

Thomas has set a very low bar thus far for other up-and-coming prospects, which gets into my next point. The D-Backs have a decent amount of outfield prospects. Even after trading Dominic Fletcher, the D-Backs still have Jorge Barrosa and Jake McCarthy on the 40-man roster. They also have drafted Jack Hurley and Druw Jones the last two drafts, adding two more highly talented outfield prospects to the system. At this point, I would not put it past Barrosa out-producing Thomas with the bat based on how Thomas has performed thus far.

Can Thomas rebound in 2024? He definitely has the potential to do so. Lifting the ball will be paramount to his success. However, if he fails to make any strides in the right direction this season, the D-Backs might want to start considering alternatives in center field. That will make the 2024 season the most important year of Thomas’ career thus far.