The San Diego Padres’ fourth-round pick, Levi Thomas, is a money-saving value pick, but he provides much more to the team.
When an organization decides to splurge early on a string of high-ceiling athletes, it usually expects to cut deals later on. What this means is that teams try to recuperate the available dollars handed out at the time by signing less costly amateurs, whether they be senior college students or less promising prospects. This was the case for the San Diego Padres in 2020.
After grabbing the best hitter in the high school class, the Friars took three high-upside talents with their next three picks, including one, Cole Wilcox. He could have easily been selected in the first round but lasted until the third. As a result, Preller’s financial resources were drained by the third round, even though two remained in the draft. Due to this dilemma, he and his associates chose Troy University’s standout right-handed starter, Levi Thomas, with their fourth-round pick. They did so, first and foremost, because of the money they could save. The Padres recouped $453,000 by taking him, allowing them to draft Wilcox.
However, is Levi Thomas more than just an under slot sign? To answer this question, we must look at the pitcher’s track record and success at Troy College.
Lightly regarded as a high school player, Levi Thomas decided to head to Troy University to build his baseball resumé. During the three years he was there, he continually succeeded in this pursuit. In his freshman year, 2018, Thomas split time between the starting rotation and the bullpen. After 41.1 innings of doing so, he carried a 1.98 ERA with a 3.5 walk rate and 12.2 strikeout ratio. It certainly did not take him long to become a top strikeout artist in the NCAA Division I. However, based on his BB/9; there is work to be done about his control and command. This issue sets him back from reaching his full potential.
The following year, 2019, was a more accurate portrayal of Thomas and his skills though, because, in each of his appearances, he was a starting pitcher. Over 15 games started, and 80.2 innings pitched, the Troy righty struggled to a 4.35 ERA. Also, his K rate trended downward, winding up at a 9.7 SO/9 statistic. These regressions ensured that the pitcher would not be recollected amongst the elite amateurs in the 2020 draft. Instead, his failures caused him to remain outside of MLB Prospect Watch’s top 200 draft prospects.
Yet, 2020 was a resurgence of sorts for the 5-foot-11 inch pitcher. Although the season was short, he demonstrated why he belonged in the top five rounds. Through four starts and 23 innings as a starting pitcher, Thomas posted an exceptional 0.39 ERA. Meanwhile, he lowered his walk rate to a more manageable 2.3/9 innings figure and increased his strikeout output to 16.4 per nine innings. In other words, he fixed the one major issue plaguing him, his control and command. With refinement, he was able to produce much better results, and there is no reason why he couldn’t continue improving. One of his most impressive outings this year was against the No. 1 Florida Gators. He shocked scouts and MLB teams alike when he made it through six innings without surrendering a single run. This helped offset the fact that he plays in a less noteworthy conference, the Sunbelt Conference.
As for his repertoire, he has a decent pitch mix, even if it is not elite. As a relatively short pitcher, he suffers from a fastball without elite life. His heater sits in the 90-93 mph range, but he can use it effectively, relying on its riding action to strike out more than one batter per inning. Such proficiency speaks to his pitchability, a trait often seen in scrappy back-of-the-rotation type arms. Thomas’ best offering is a 78-82 mph slider. According to numerous sources, the slider is slightly above-average, giving him something to fall back on. Lastly, he possesses a changeup. Like his other pitches, it is near average in quality. However, he can use it to throw batters off balance and allow his fastball/slider combination to play up.
Another thing working in the Troy star’s favor is his attitude on the mound. According to his coaches, Thomas has a bulldog mentality that should help adjust well to the minor leagues. His head coach, Mark Smartt, has noted how “from his first day on campus, he worked hard to improve in every way on and off the field. He has incredible makeup, which will serve him well during his professional journey.” Thomas’ pitching coach, Matt Hancock, issued a similar statement, saying how “Levi is one of the hardest-working players I have ever coached. Even more impressive are the qualities he possesses, as a person, off the field. Those qualities, coupled with his talent level, allowed him to become one of the top arms in the country this past year.” Taken together, these declarations paint Thomas as an exceptionally hard worker who always tries, to the best of his ability, to improve. These traits will help him adapt well to the minor leagues and become better each day he is active in the Padres’ system. As such, he may be able to increase the velocity on his fastball and raise the profile of his slider and changeup.
Based on everything written above, Thomas’ most likely role in the future is as a back-of-the-rotation arm, one which San Diego can rely on every fifth day. At the least, he adds to the immense pitching depth the Friars have. This, and the fact that Preller saved a great deal of money signing him, elevates his grade.