The Diamondbacks are bringing one of baseball’s most highly-ranked prospects, as Jeff Passan of ESPN reports they are promoting outfielder Alek Thomas. The club had an opening on the 40-man roster, meaning no corresponding move will be necessary in that regard. To make room on the active roster, catcher Carson Kelly was placed on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to May 5, with a strained left oblique.
Thomas was selected by the D-Backs in the second round of the 2018 draft out of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago. Just 18 years old at the time, he played 56 rookie ball games that year, 28 each on two different teams, hitting .333/.395/.463, wRC+ of 133, with a walk rate of 8.9% and strikeout rate of just 13.7%.
In 2019, he got bumped up to A-ball, playing 91 games and hitting .312/.393/.479. His walk and strikeout rates were 10.7% and 17.9%, culminating in a 153 wRC+. He got promoted to High-A that year and struggled a bit, which isn’t terribly surprising given that he was more than three years younger than the average age for that level and it was also a small sample of just 23 games.
The pandemic wiped out the 2020 season but didn’t slow Thomas down at all. In 2021, he started his season in Double-A and played 72 games there, hitting ten home runs and stealing eight bases. Along with a walk rate of 11.2% and strikeout rate of 19.8%, he hit .283/.374/.507 for a wRC+ of 134. He got promoted to Triple-A and took his game up another notch. Despite his walk and strikeout rates slipping to 9% and 20.5%, he hit eight home runs in just 34 games, adding five steals, finishing with a line of .369/.434/.658, wRC+ of 168. Thomas is now considered one of the top prospects in the game, coming into this season with Baseball America ranking him #32, MLB Pipeline #40 and FanGraphs #23.
Thomas, who turned 22 years old just over a week ago, is off to a fine start to this year. Although not quite as blistering as his first taste of Triple-A, he’s hitting a solid .277/.362/.495, wRC+ of 117. It’s possible that Thomas is being held back by some bad luck, as he’s lowered his strikeout rate to 13.8% this year, increased his walk rate to 11.2%, but has just a .293 batting average on balls in play, well below his numbers in previous seasons.
He’s played primarily in center field so far this year, making 22 starts there along with a couple in right. Although some evaluators think he may need to move into a corner in the long run, it’s possible the team lets him stick in center field at first to see how he fares. Daulton Varsho has taken most of the starts in center field so far this year. However, he has the unusual distinction of being both a center fielder and a catcher. With Kelly’s placement on the injured list, it seems Varsho might start spending more time behind the dish with Thomas taking over the center field duties. Jose Herrera is the only other catcher on either the active roster or the 40-man roster. The club hasn’t provided a timeline for Kelly’s return.
After a brutal 52-110 finish last year, the Snakes are off to an encouraging start this year, currently sitting on a 14-14 record. Despite hovering at the .500 level, they’re still in last place in a very competitive NL West, but the better record has to feel good for those in the organization. Thomas is one of many exciting prospects that give the club hope of better results this year and in the years to come. He is one of five D-Backs on the Top 100 prospect lists of both Baseball America and FanGraphs.