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Tahnaj Thomas: Breaking Pitch Key To Continued Progress

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Tahnaj Thomas has always been a wildcard type of prospect for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Armed with one of the best fastballs in the system, his upside seemed tremendous when he was acquired from Cleveland in 2018. He was also new to pitching so the raw potential was also there.

Thomas has struggled to adapt to the mound, mainly with his control, and going into 2021 made the shift to the bullpen to give his fastball a better chance to play.

It seemed like an easy solution, with Thomas capable of reaching 100 mph. His fastball is perfect for a reliever role, but with his struggles with control, has had to dial it back in order to command it.

Now with losing some of the velocity, there is more pressure to develop his secondary pitches, since he couldn’t rely on overpowering hitters with his fastball.

He got off to a strong start to the season in April. In six appearances (7 1/3 innings), Thomas only allowed one earned run and held opponents to an .080 average. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) wasn’t favorable towards him in April, holding a 4.93 mark.

That proved to be the point in May, as a bad stretch against Somerset doomed him to a rough overall month, posting a 10.29 ERA. The control issues flared up in the worse way as wall, as Thomas walked more batters than he struck out.

Month FIP K% BB% AVG
April 4.93 24.1% 13.8% .080
May 7.15 10% 15% .438
June 3.65 26.3% 7.9% .235

June has been much better for Thomas, in almost every aspect except the opponent’s average, which is still a respectable mark.

Looking at some video, it’s not surprising that control played a big factor in Thomas’ struggles. One thing that would probably taking some adjusting is how he uses the fastball. When he was letting it loose, he had a little wiggle room in missing up in the zone. Now that he has tamed it down to about 92-94 (have seen some 95), he needs to hit his spots more.

As you can see in the videos, Thomas paid for leaving the fastball and slider up in the zone. The Somerset series was a rough one for Tahnaj, as in just two games he allowed five earned runs across two innings. Those account for nearly half of the runs Thomas has allowed this season, and his season ERA if you take those games out is just 2.95.

You can see some of the good against Bowie at the beginning of June. He does a better job (still not perfect, but progress) of keeping the fastball down, and then using the slider off the pitch.

The progress of the slider in June has led to his highest K-rate of the season over a month, and he even got a three-pitch strikeout all on it.

Thomas is still a work in progress, but he always seemed like a longer-term project due to his inexperience. Moving to the bullpen may have sped some of that back up, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

The fact that there is still the potential for him to dial it up to near triple-digits will always make him an intriguing prospect to watch. If he can stabilize the control, there is the chance he starts to reach back a little bit more and more, which would then make him a very interesting late-inning relief pitcher prospect. Continued work on the slider will also be key, but it’s work that is being done and starting to show some progress.

THIS WEEKEND ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

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Tahnaj Thomas: Breaking Pitch Key To Continued Progress

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Anthony Murphy
Anthony Murphy
Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

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