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2023 D50: Prospect #13

Updated: Feb 24, 2023


Each post will feature these words, so feel free to skip accordingly. I offer the same always-standing apologies for the lackluster quality of my writing, as well as the stream of consciousness nature that I write with. I sincerely wish that I was better at writing than I am but, alas, here we are. Also, I'm very good at this as compared to most, but I am still VERY bad at it. Just think about that for a second, for context purposes.

I want to start off by reminding everyone that these posts are aided and enhanced by the works of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball America, and Prospects Live. Each embedded link will take you to their subscription pages and you should absolutely do that. Shout out to Geoff Pontes and Matt Thompson from Baseball America and Prospects Live, respectfully, because they're awesome. FanGraphs stats are OBVIOUSLY clutch and awesome, and that's why they are used in nearly every "Dirty" post. LOVE that FanGraphs.

Accordingly, @Cardinalsgifs provides his artistic touch to the pictures in each article, and I wouldn't do this at all if he wasn't a part of it. Special shoutout to @KareemSSN who is a must follow for Cardinals prospects stuff. His partner in crime is @Cardinalsreek and they have their own prospect list coming out soon!! Shoutout to Blake Newberry (@BT_Newberry) and Mr. Brian Walton (@B_Walton) for their work on their list over at The Cardinal Nation, too.

I also want to remind everyone that my list is different in that I don't include players with rookie eligibility that have made a Major League debut. So, you'll have to look elsewhere for Matthew Liberatore, Ivan Herrera, Alec Burleson, Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan, Jake Walsh, Andre Pallante, and ZacK Thompson. Some of these guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway. I'm just trying to get ahead of this because I will 100% be asked about each. I did almost add 32-year-old Rule 5 draft selection Wilking Rodriguez to the list, but decided against it because he's 32-years-old, entering his age 33 season, and the coverage of him will surely be overly saturated by the time that Spring Training gets going. Also, I didn't add recently acquired Jose Fermín because I just don't care at all. I'm sure he'll make a Major League debut at some point in 2023 which will be cool but I just can't find it in me to care about it at all.

The last thing that I'd like to do is remind everyone that this is just a snap shot of THIS moment. I'm not 100% sure what every player on the list has worked on or has been doing this offseason. So, when I'm a little more conservative with a player like, say, Michael McGreevy, it's without the knowledge of what he's worked on this offseason, along with the gains that he's made in the areas that I'm concerned about. You never know when/if things are going to click for a player, and there's more reason now than ever before - with the advancements in modern baseball technologies - for a prospect to catapult themselves from out of nowhere. Vice versa, it's easier than ever for a prospect to fall off into obscurity.

Finally, I'd like to provide links to other sites that rank Cardinals' prospects. The Cardinal Nation, Prospects Live, and Baseball America all have their 2023 lists published, and MLB and FanGraphs will link to their most recent rankings from 2022:

THE CARDINAL NATION (Subscribe to the damn site, dummies) MLB


LHP Connor Thomas

Age 24, Turns 25 in May

Drafted in the 4th Round of the 2019 Draft

Listed at 5'11, 173


This will probably be the toughest player to justify such a high spot on the list. Especially with more... hyped... prospects behind him on the list Like McGreevy, Hansen, and Mautz.

This simply comes down to certainty, for me. Maturity and certainty.

Connor Thomas isn't a prospect with "sexy" velocity or high-dollar hype. He's a pitcher with an aggressive plan of attack who utilizes his arsenal as well as anyone when he is in command. He's also a unique-type pitcher that can nibble or live on the "black" of the zone while still being super aggressive. At least, when he's really getting after it.

As a matter of fact, the difference between Thomas during the 2021 regular season (the AFL in 2022, too) and the 2022 regular season was how he commanded his arsenal. We'll get to that soon enough.

To categorize Thomas's arsenal as "deep" from there might be an understatement. Thomas throws a curve and slider that both have 2600+ RPMs and a changeup with some great arm-side fade and tumble. You'll see in the gif below how good the slider can be and the depth that it possesses. He can get both righties and lefties to chase it, and while it doesn't get a ton of whiffs it's also not a push-over or pitch-to-contact pitch. It's the exact pitch that a lot of Major Leaguer have success with as a primary off-speed offering.

For me, everything starts with Thomas's slider. His ability to sneak his slider on the outside corner of the zone to righties gets a lot of strikeouts and a lot of weak contact. He throws both the four-seam and the sinker at near-matching spins (2300-ish RPM) and matching velocities, and they both serve their own purpose within his arsenal. You'll notice in the first two gifs of this post that Thomas's fastball is a pitch that lives around the 90 MPH mark and rarely gets above 92, but it is a pitch that Thomas can sneak by righties up in the zone while also getting a lot of defensive swings against it. The sinker is a pitch better used against lefties but is still effective against righties when he's really commanding the slider inside against them. As you'll see in the gif above, it's also a really good pitch when he's going front door with it against lefties.

Thomas uses the changeup effectively against both righties and lefties, as well, and the pitch has a ton of tumble on the arm-side when he isn't getting over "whippy" with his arm action. You'll see how freaking great it can be when he is really feeling it. The pitch in the gif below is an incredible two-strike pitch that is Major League ready. He doesn't get a ton of chase against it, but I believe that's mostly because he doesn't always throw it like he does below. Oftentimes, it's a pitch that gets a little more of the plate in it's design to slow swings for weak contact. It's a fine third offering that we've seen pitchers have success with at the Major League level.

Connor Thomas doesn't throw his curveball much, but he's smart about how and when he uses it, and almost exclusively against left-handed hitters. It's more of a handed-ness matchup weapon in the utility belt for him than anything else, but it's effective when he does go to it.

Connor's cutter is his budding pitch that he's gained a ton of confidence in. He had success with it in the AFL, but he's still working to really harness and use it. It's getting there, but it's not exactly there just yet. I say that, but I think it'd be smart to bet that he'll have it exactly where he wants it with another entire off-season of work with it. It's a pitch - as you'll see in the Winter Wam Up press conference video at the beginning of this post - that Mike Maddox encouraged him to learn and throw and that Jason Isringhausen helped him learn and utilize.

So, what you have with Thomas is a quick-working and command-first lefty that throws from a tough-ish and somewhat deceptive arm angle who is capable of throwing an impressive six-pitch mix of varying angles, shapes, and velocities, even if the velocities aren't through the roof.

So, you might be asking "What's the catch?" or "If he is so good then why was he so bad during the 2022 season?"

My answer to that question is "His command on the outside corners of the plate betrayed him during the 2022 season."

During the 2021 season (and then again in the 2022 Arizona Fall League season), Connor Thomas used his entire arsenal with near pinpoint command while living on the fringes of the zone to both lefties and righties. During the 2022 season, Thomas did not have near pinpoint command while using his entire arsenal against both lefties and righties. Oftentimes, it seemed to me that Thomas was opening up wayyyyyyyyyy earlier than he ever had after planting his leg, and that would cause him to fly open and miss his spots. Again, I'm literally just some asshole watching on laptop designated for gif'ing. I'm not a pitching coach. I do not know shit. I'm way more useful when I'm on the porn laptop, if we are being honest. The bottom line is, whatever the reason was, Connor Thomas just didn't have the same command of his shit during the 2022 season that he had during the 2021 season. You could tell that this frustrated Thomas a lot on the mound, and that would work against him, as well.

The good news is, Thomas did rediscover the mechanical success that led to increased command in the AFL, and the reports from Arizona tell us that he was back to hitting "the black" of the zone at will. That's a large part of the reason why I am deciding not to punish him on the list by dropping him further down. A lot was made of his incredible turn in the Arizona Fall League following a ten strikeout performance along with utter domination that earned him the AFL Pitcher of the Year award. Thomas more-than deserved the accolade, and it was awesome to see him win that award. It sounds like everything was really working for him. He's going to need that to continue.

Another reason why I am staying bullish on Connor Thomas is that he is still very good at keeping the ball on the ground. One of the reasons for the extra success during his 2021 turn at AAA was because he was able to get hitters to put the ball on the ground 61% of the time. That number dropped to 51% of the time during the 2022 season, but that number is still going to play. There's a lot of late fade and movement in his arsenal, and this is reflected in that number. We've seen Thomas get grounders on pitches up in the zone, and I think that gives you some idea of how much late life his stuff has. He's at his best when he's down in the zone, but I also think that it does him well - and he does well - to go up in the zone when he can.

The truth is, I believe in Connor Thomas in a way that I don't believe in a lot of the other pitching prospects in the organization. It goes without saying that I'm being more aggressive with him than others, especially with pitchers like Pete Hansen, Brycen Mautz, and Michael McGreevy behind him. I worry that he'll repeat his bummer of a 2022 season in 2023, and that mistakes will compound on top of each other and he'll reel a little bit like he did during the 2022 season. I worry that his fastball won't have the life on it that it's shown in the past, and that he won't have the 2021 regular season or 2022 AFL command. I worry that the cutter won't develop the way that he needs to. Of course I worry about all of these things with Thomas. These concerns and how he works through them (or around them) will make or break his season.

However, as worried as I am about these things, I have more confidence that this incredibly exuberant, crafty, and smart pitcher has rediscovered his command and that he'll make a Major League impact during the 2023 season. Thomas is too determined to do anything that isn't impactful. An athletic and aggressive competitor on the mound, the success of Connor Thomas will come down to how he continues to command a lively, late-moving, and deep arsenal. That alone puts him ahead of some of those other arms in the organization.

Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis


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