The Arizona Diamondbacks drafted Alek Thomas in the second round of the 2018 draft. The outfielder quickly became one of the top prospects in all of baseball, ranking as a consensus top 100 prospect for three years from 2020 through 2022. He reached his peak in prospect status heading into ‘22, as he was considered a consensus top 50 prospect by nearly all sites. Thomas has since played a regular role for the Diamondbacks, but his bat hasn’t been great.
Through 813 career plate appearances, Thomas has hit just .230/.274/.359. He has walked just 5% of the time with a paltry .128 isolated slugging percentage. He’s yet to reach 20 career home runs. The only real positive from his offense has been his quality 19.7% strikeout rate. But with a .275 wOBA and 72 wRC+, he ranks in the bottom five in both stats among batters with at least 800+ plate appearances since the start of the ‘22 campaign.
On the plus side, the speed and fielding have translated to the Major Leagues. He has logged 1827.1 innings, all in center field, with +11 defensive runs saved and +12 outs above average. Only ten players have reached double-digit positives in both numbers out of center field the last two seasons. Thomas has also ranked above the 85th percentile of sprint speed in both of his Major League seasons.
If Thomas doesn’t figure it out soon, he may end up as a 4th outfielder. Sure, his defense is good, but his 72 wRC+ sets a very low bar for prospects, including Dominic Fletcher, Jorge Barrosa, Jack Hurley, and Druw Jones, to surpass. So, what are some things he can build upon or improve in 2024?
One thing he improved upon was hitting the ball harder. Thomas saw his exit velocity rise from 87.4 MPH to 88.9 MPH from ‘22 to ‘23. Meanwhile, his hard-hit rate went from 34.6% to 41.6%. This may not put him in the realm of Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani in terms of raw power, but it puts him at an average to slightly above-average level. But he’s not been able to take advantage of his raw strength in a meaningful way.
Thomas had a launch angle of just 2.2 degrees. Very few batters are consistently good with a sub-3.0-degree launch angle. Thomas had a ground ball rate of 55.5% and a poor 25.5% flyball rate. His barrel rate of 5.1% was in the 18th percentile, well below average. It is an improvement from 3.8% in ‘22, but still not good.
I am obviously not a coach, but from my perspective, there is some flatness to Thomas’ bat path. He struggles to hit pitches in the lower part of the zone. According to Baseball Savant, his xwOBA in the lower third of the K-zone is below .300. But his xwOBA in the top of the zone and down the middle is over .370.
Thomas doesn’t have to be Luis Gonzalez 2.0 to be productive. Even if he had a wRC+ of 100, it would make him a productive center fielder. But if Thomas wants to keep ahead of the coming competition, he needs to start hitting the ball in the air more frequently. It’s obviously easier said than done to implement these changes to his game, but he definitely has the potential to break out if he can make adjustments.