Updated: Dec 5, 2021
WELCOME TO THE DIRTY FLIRTY.
These are my top 40 prospects in The Cardinals organization, aside from the players that I’ve already covered in The Dirty Annexes. This little ditty here is the preface to all of the post in our Dirty series. So, if you’ve read this once then you don’t need to read it again!
A warning to those looking for Lars Nootbaar, Scott Hurst, Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford, Edmundo Sosa, and anyone aside from Angel Rondon that has already made a major league debut: That’s not really by bailiwick, as I’m sure you’ve heard enough about those guys from more qualified outlets already. Most of those guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway.
A reminder that this is an exercise in futility, ranking prospects. It’s a landscape that is ever-changing and developing. We are almost always talking about kids that are just starting to understand both themselves and their bodies, while learning the most difficult and nuanced sport in the land. You never know when someone is going to start doing 200 pushups per day on their way to postseason glory.
I ask for your thoughts and feedback. I ask that you have fun. I ask that you remember that I’m a moron. Most importantly, I ask that you take all of the prospect rankings from every outlet in the spirit of what they are: a snapshot of that moment, with a bent towards understanding what might come.
#14: LHP Connor Thomas
23 Years Old
Drafted in the 5th round of the 2019 draft
Springfield and Memphis
There isn’t a pitcher in the Cardinals organization that took a bigger jump in how I perceive him than Connor Thomas did in 2021.
Thomas was drafted in 2019, and he seemed like a LOOGY when I watched him at State College that season. I was surprised that the Cardinals drafted him in the 5th round because he seemed like a rather pedestrian selection for a pick that high. When I went back and watched him at Georgia Tech, I felt vindicated in my initial appraisal, as well. He seemed like a capable LOOGY with impeccable command that would probably take him to, but not through, the top levels of the minors. With the privilege of hindsight and recent memory, I guess that I thought that 2021 TJ McFarland was the best case scenario for his ultimate development.
It was the first start of the 2021 in which I realized that Thomas had reached a new level of his development.
To go along with his plus command that might actually have the chance to be "plus plus", Thomas had added a couple of MPH to his fastball. This kept him sustainably in the low-90’s instead of 90-or-below, and that made a difference immediately. His 92 MPH fastball isn't going to "wow" you on the stat sheet, but it's a high spin pitch that is pretty lively. You'll see that as the first pitch in the gif below. We'll get to the tunneling of the off-speed in a minute. It really sneaks up on hitters, lefties in particular.
Thomas's mechanics have always been crisp and his motion and arm slot repeatable, but his arm speed is quicker than it was pre-COVID, in my estimation. It also seemed like his arm angle was raised ever so slightly, but I could just be over-analyzing. More importantly, Thomas paired his fastball with a more-than-refined-and-enhanced slider that was a game-changer for him, in my mind. In college, the slider was always his better off-speed offering, but it wasn’t what we are seeing now. Between his command, his repeatability, pitching IQ, and liveliness, all three of Thomas's pitches can play well-above average. It’d be one thing if this was the case every couple of starts, but Thomas’s arsenal played well-above average nearly every game that he started during the 2021 season.
Speaking of his third offering, I've really come to appreciate Thomas's changeup. He uses it very well on the outer and lower halves of the strike zone against righties, and he is able to induce a lot of soft contact with this pitch. It has some really great late life on it, just like his entire arsenal, and that really helps him get away with some mistake changeups here and there. It's a perfectly fine third offering, indeed. He can also bury it low and inside against lefties.
In an effort to throttle back some innings and keep everyone around the 100 IP mark, Thomas pitched some out of the bullpen during the 2021 season. I love the move and I agree with the organization, but that was also the worst stretch of Thomas’s season. I have no doubt that he’d be able to pitch out of the pen if that was needed out of him, but I bring it up to tell you that Thomas is a true starting pitcher. Sure, maybe he might just be a noticeably more polished and left-handed version of Jake Woodford, but that's pretty valuable at the back of a rotation or as MiLB depth. Especially because of how well Thomas commands his arsenal as compared to Woodford (unless Woodford is being aggressive in the strike zone with his stuff, which is, has, and will always be the key for him. Then, it's a push.).
Since Thomas doesn’t blow the ball by hitters, there is always the chance that he is going to allow more homers at the next level than you’d feel comfortable with. I’m not saying that this is necessarily going to be the case with Thomas, just that it’s a possibility. I know that I was so impressed watching him work in all quadrants of the strike zone during the season, and that helps to wash some of my worries away. Thomas does allow a lot of contact and that usually equals hits, but he has that groundball tendency that helps to wash some of those concerns away. Striking out only 22.1% of hitters isn't that impressive, but that's not his game. He needs to continue to work the lower half of the zone, forcing hitters to pound the ball into the ground. Just to throw it in there, Thomas is also very good at mitigating the running game because he's quick to the plate and has a good pickoff move.
I also know that I love to watch him pitch because he doesn’t screw around on the mound. He gets the ball. He throws the ball. We all rejoice in its simplicity. It’s delightful. The gif below will demonstrate to you how well his slider and fastball tunnel off of each other. I am grateful for this camera angle. He tunnels the changeup extremely well, also.
You’ll find some through lines in nearly every one of these write-ups: Randy Flores drafts team leaders. He drafts driven and feisty competitors. He drafts players with high baseball IQ. Thomas has all of these traits, and in abundance. He might be more Tim Cooney than anything else, but that should make you wish that Cooney would have been able to stay healthy and not to make you think that Thomas doesn't have a Major League future.
Thomas might not be the “sexiest” prospect on the list, but he is the exact type of arm that the Cardinals need in the organization. If he can keep the ball in the park and continue to get grounders between 55% and 60% of the time, then there is no reason to believe that he can’t be a left-handed version of Dakota Hudson. Specifically with this Cardinals defense behind him.
As I just take a screenshot straight from their website, I can’t begin to stress loudly enough the important role that FanGraphs plays in the statistical side of what I do with these write-ups. Please subscribe to their service BY CLICKING THIS LINK.
In addition, you all know how important and valuable @cardinalsgifs is to the pictures that fire up these articles. I wouldn’t do the write-ups if it weren’t for him.
Thank For Reading!!