Prospect Q&A: D-backs outfielder Thomas
There are few hitters who enjoyed the type of success that Alek Thomas experienced in 2021 as the top D-backs prospect concluded his third Minor League season on the doorstep of the big leagues with Triple-A Reno. Thomas batted .313/.394/.559 overall with 18 homers, 29 doubles, 12 triples, 59 RBIs,
There are few hitters who enjoyed the type of success that Alek Thomas experienced in 2021 as the top D-backs prospect concluded his third Minor League season on the doorstep of the big leagues with Triple-A Reno.
Thomas batted .313/.394/.559 overall with 18 homers, 29 doubles, 12 triples, 59 RBIs, 86 runs scored and 36 stolen bases. He participated in the Futures Game at Coors Field, was named the D-backs’ Minor League Player of the Year and made MLB Pipeline’s 2021 Prospect Team of the Year.
His incredible season began with Double-A Amarillo, but he only got better after being promoted in August. Thomas, the No. 18 overall prospect, batted .369 with a 1.092 OPS and 23 extra-base hits, including eight homers, in 32 games with the Aces.
Thomas looks back on his monster season and looks ahead to 2022 – where he can certainly make an early push for the Majors. He also talks about growing up in the game and some of the offseason training he did with his father, Allen Thomas, who worked as a strength and conditioning coach with the White Sox for 27 years.
MiLB.com: How was the offseason for you – have you been in Arizona?
Alek Thomas: I was in Chicago for the whole offseason. Just stayed out there, got some work in with my dad near the house -- probably like 10-15 minutes away from the house. And then hit sometimes up in the Bo Dome, but it was a good offseason for sure. Got some good work in.
MiLB.com: Must be nice to get out of the cold in Chicago?
Thomas: Whenever I left it was really cold for sure.
MiLB.com: Were you working on anything in particular headed into camp?
Thomas: Really just getting into the swing of things. Getting back to – not regular season form – but just my natural state. But really it's just getting acclimated to the weather, getting acclimated to being in cleats again and just getting used to everything is the main thing -- just trying to carry over what I had from last year and bring it into this year for sure.
MiLB.com: Now that you're a little more established in professional baseball, what is it like to look back on the memories of growing up in the game with your father?
Thomas: I think it definitely shaped me into the person I am today with having all those memories and having all those people in my ear that have been around the game for a long time and being in the clubhouse with my dad. Everything I think definitely carried over to here and made it, I wouldn't say easier, but definitely a little bit more comfortable than most. It definitely has helped me go through the Minors and be around guys with the D-backs and the Major League team.
MiLB.com: Does it bring back memories to see your teammates bring their kids around camp, the way you used to be around the White Sox growing up?
Thomas: It's definitely something that I can look back at and think that I'm pretty lucky to have been a coach's kid, and now I get to be a player on the field. It's definitely funny how things work out.
MiLB.com: You've mentioned in previous interviews that there was an emphasis on getting stronger and tapping into your power more. How much did your father's background as a strength coach help there?
Thomas: We didn't really change anything, to be honest. We continued to do the offseason training program that my dad always sets up for me. And it's just me growing up and doing those workouts and paying attention to things I need to do and listening to my dad, and I think everything just meshed together and now I'm a little bigger. I also worked on everything. My dad's not only a strength coach, he's also my hitting coach almost – as well as my dad. So, I think I got a good dose of everything, just working out with him in the cage and then with the weights and some other stuff -- functional training and everything. But, I'm definitely glad that I had him upstairs in the house.
MiLB.com: Let's go back to your first big league Spring Training in 2019. You homered off Lucas Giolito while your dad was in the other dugout. What was that moment like?
Thomas: It was really funny to be honest with you because I told him the day before that I was going to hit a home run off Giolito and it actually happened. But it was definitely something I can look back at and cherish with my dad for a long time. To have that moment with him is really cool. You never know when that's your last homer. But it was really cool and really funny. The dinner after was really funny -- definitely something I can look back on for sure. ... [After that game] we just gave each other a big hug and started laughing.
Cool moment from today's #DbacksSpring game.#Dbacks prospect @athomas22 hit a three-run homer in the 9th inning.— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) March 21, 2019
His father Allen, who is the @WhiteSox Director of Conditioning, was sitting in the other dugout.
Alek made sure his dad saw it. pic.twitter.com/Vm5tjVJJAF
MiLB.com: You've expressed some lofty expectations for yourself and have said that you play with a chip on your shoulder, especially after falling to the second round in the Draft. Is that still a motivating factor?
Thomas: It's probably always going to motivate me. I felt like that just sparked a light underneath me. And it was like, 'Alright, Alek. You got to show all these people why you are a second rounder and show them how you can impact a team.' You definitely play with that chip on your shoulder, always, and I think that's just the mentality that my dad has instilled in me is to always play with that chip on your shoulder. There's always going to be someone better than you, so what are you going to do to outwork him or be better than him? I'll definitely always have that in the back of my mind.
MiLB.com: Scouts describe your swing as high-effort -- is that something you agree with and how did you shape your current stroke?
Thomas: To me it feels pretty comfortable, pretty loose and it doesn't feel like a high-effort swing -- but I do swing hard. I watch a lot of videos of Ken Griffey Jr., of Harold Baines -- I've worked with Harold Baines before, and he's given me good tips in the past. It's a lot of looking back on other people's swings. I'm not really trying to emulate it, but it's definitely a good mold for me to have and for me to look at. And also, Barry Bonds is another person I look at as well. All those guys that -- my dad's always saying, 'Go watch video, go watch Griffey and look for his contact point.' For me, it doesn't seem like a high-effort swing. That's just my comfort. I'm a react guy -- I'm not in my head that I'm going to swing as hard as I can or anything like that. I'm going to react to the pitch and put a good swing on the ball and try and hit the ball hard.
MiLB.com: You had an incredible season in 2021 that only got better as you were promoted. What happened when you got to Reno that really clicked for you?
Thomas: I think I just hit the offspeed a little bit better. And the stuff was a little more in the zone. And I felt like I executed on those balls in the zone. And then, another thing is that in Double-A -- Josh Barfield told [all players from Double-A to the Complex], that we needed to take a strike for however long. And I think there is where I learned how to swing at offspeed. Because that strike would go by and now you're 0-1, and now, most likely you're going to get an offspeed. So, to think, that right there really helped the success in Triple-A. I think that's probably what happened, and the stuff was more in the zone. And swinging at balls in the zone is great no matter fastball, curveball or changeup. So, I think that's just what happened. And naturally there's some success there.
MiLB.com: Did that plan to have everyone take a strike maybe get to you, performance wise?
Thomas: Yeah, it got to me. And I had to mentally toughen up and throw it out the door and be like, 'OK, I'm going to learn from this. I'm not going to beat myself because I couldn't swing at the first pitch strike.' So, I forced myself to stop being so mad and think of it in a positive way. And then in August I'm pretty sure I started swinging a whole lot better and I felt more comfortable with taking a strike and things started to click and it transferred over a few games in in Reno.
MiLB.com: What does a successful season look like for you in 2022?
Thomas: The goal for me is to be in the big leagues at some point in the year. But based on what I can control -- that's a tough question. I don't know if I've ever been asked that question. I feel like getting better on the bases is a main thing. I think that will be a big point that I want to get better at. Just to try to continue what I had from last year. Be the same type of player. Hit the ball to all fields and play good defense and try and make an impact on the bases as well. I think that's just the type of player I want to be -- whether that be in the Minors or the Majors.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.