Earlier this week, the Cardinals placed two of the outfielders from their Opening Day roster on the injured list. Harrison Bader was shelved with a hamstring strain and Tyler O’Neill with a slight dislocation of his ulnar nerve. To fill the gaps that left in the active roster, utility infielder Yairo Munoz was recalled, and a promotion was made; St. Louis called up outfielder Lane Thomas to the Majors for the first time.
The 23-year-old Thomas is seventh-highest rated prospect in the system, according to MLB Pipeline, and is in his sixth year of professional ball. Thomas was drafted by the Blue Jays in the fifth round of the 2014 draft and spent time at the Rookie and Low-A levels in his first three seasons. With a .702 OPS in 73 games with High-A Dunedin through the first half of the 2017 season, the Cardinals traded some international slot money to the Blue Jays to acquire Thomas. For Mike Girsch, it was one of his first trades as the Cardinals’ general manager.
After several injuries - a broken rib, wrist, and foot - cut into his playing time in prior seasons, Thomas finally got a hearty chance in 2018 to show what he’s capable of on the diamond.
With 27 home runs between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis, Thomas led the farm in long balls, beating out O’Neill’s 26. Thomas’s power outbreak wasn’t necessarily forecasted (he had 18 total home runs across his first four years), although it makes sense that it came in his first injury-free season in quite some time. In 132 total games, Thomas posted a .264/.333/.489 slash-line and hit 21 of his homers in Springfield to earn Texas League All-Star honors.
In 2018, Thomas stole 17 bases and walked in over 8 percent of his plate appearances. Thomas also dropped his strikeouts compared to the year before, with a 23 percent strikeout rate that was nearly four points lower than in 2017. Serving in center field all of last season, Thomas maintained a .997 fielding percentage in 996 innings. He is comfortable in all three outfield spots, and that is attractive to this team at the big-league level.
Thomas made his name known in Memphis last year, even if his time there was short. To build on the 110 wRC+ he had in 32 regular season games, Thomas launched a key two-run triple and later a three-run homer in the 2018 Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game to help the Redbirds win their first title.
VEB’s very own A.E. Schafer wrote about Thomas over the winter:
It’s unclear where the opportunity for Thomas at the big league level will come from, but he’s knocking on the door for at least a backup job in the near future.
It appears an opportunity for Thomas has been found, be it unclear of how big it may be due to not knowing how long Bader and O’Neill will be sidelined. We did get to see Thomas get in his first innings of defensive work in Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee, but he is still looking for his first plate appearance and start in the Majors.
Perhaps he’ll get his first(s) and then some this weekend, as the Cardinals host a three-game series with the Mets at Busch Stadium.
Video is credited to the official Minor League Baseball YouTube channel.