Blue Jays left fielder Eric Thames has made one of the more impressive transitions to pro ball of any ’08 draft pick, but he may be going undetected to all but those who follow the Florida State League.
Off to a fast start with high Class A Dunedin—his first pro experience of any kind—the lefthanded-hitting Thames is batting .340/.418/.462 with a home run, six doubles, 13 walks and 19 strikeouts through 106 at-bats. He ranks third in the FSL in average and second in on-base percentage.
A seventh-round pick from Pepperdine last June, Thames signed with the Blue Jays about a week after the draft but didn’t suit up for a Toronto affiliate. He tore a quad muscle late in his junior season, and he didn’t retake the field in time for New York-Penn League action. He didn’t make it to instructional league, either, opting instead to improve his flexibility while rehabbing his leg injury.
The Blue Jays regarded Thames, 22, as the top power hitter from their ’08 draft haul, and he played well enough in spring training to earn an assignment in the tough FSL.
"He’s swinging the bat well, but he’s someone that until this year we didn’t know a lot about," Blue Jays farm director Dick Scott said. "He missed all of last year with a surgically-repaired quad. So rather than rush him back, we have him two, three months to rest. And now this year, he’s opened some eyes with his good start."
Unfortunately, the quad muscle tightened up on Thames after Dunedin’s game on May 9 and he went on the seven-day disabled list two days later.
Thames cemented his reputation as a power hitter with a breakout junior season for Pepperdine, which saw him hit .407/.513/.769 with 13 home runs and a 35-to-30 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 182 at-bats. This came on the heels of a homerless season as a Waves sophomore, after which the Yankees made him a 39th-round pick.
At 6-feet and 205 pounds, Thames owes his improved power and pro visibility to physical improvements he made while in school.
"He’s athletic, for sure—a strong, solidly-built guy," Scott said. "Our guys like the way he’s swung bat, which has been great for him, and great for us. As a college player from a good program, it’s taken him little time to adjust."
Limited to left field because of fringe-average range and an arm to match, Thames may develop the offensive profile to make that projection work. He’s strong enough to drive the ball to center and right field, and, as his .340 average suggests, he has shown a willingness to hit to all fields.
A scout from a rival AL organization lauded Thames for his latent power, his major league body (especially a strong lower half) and his feel for the bat head. The same scout noted that Thames did not appear to have much experience with wood bats and that his back-leg approach to power hitting may result in streakiness.
Seen as a top defensive shortstop heading into the ’08 draft, Baylor’s Beamer Weems lasted until the eighth round in part because he was coming off a tough junior year in which he batted a career-low .267/.379/.437 with seven home runs in 206 at-bats.
Drafted by the Padres, Weems signed in mid-July and didn’t exactly raise his prospect profile by batting .186/.352/.271 in 25 games for short-season Eugene. However, the switch-hitter did possess at least one offensive skill, apparent even while hitting less than .200: He knows how to work pitchers for walks.
While batting a composite .250 (73-for-293) last season as an amateur and a pro, Weems still sported a 53-to-49 walk-to-strikeout ratio. And so far this season, he’s drawn 23 bases on balls for high Class A Lake Elsinore. In California League terms, only third baseman Logan Forsythe, his Storm teammate, has surpassed Weems’ .459 on-base percentage. In fact, just 10 batters in the minors can say the same.
Sharing time at shortstop and second base with Lance Zawadzki and Andy Parrino, the 21-year-old Weems was batting .275/.459/.338 with five doubles and 15 strikeouts in 80 at-bats. He had committed two of his three errors in just eight games at second base. Weems tweaked his hamstring in a game on May 10 and landed on the seven-day disabled list last Tuesday. He’s expected back this week.
At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Weems will never be confused with a power hitter, but the Padres have worked with him to help him refine his swing.
"He’s put himself on the map with his bat. Before this year, he had always been all defense, no offense," Padres VP of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He’s put some adjustments together, and now he’s swinging pretty good.
"We wanted to get him a better hitting base, to stop him from drifting and leaking so bad in the pro game. He wanted to commit to pitches too early, which left him with no leverage. He didn’t let the ball get deep. But now he’s seeing the ball better, recognizing pitches and controlling the strike zone."
Seven Up, Seven Down
We present the top seven and bottom seven minor league clubs through games of Monday, May 18.
Why seven teams? It may not be as comforting to us as numbers ending in five or zero, but this way we encompass all the teams playing at the extremes. That is, all the clubs with .700 (or better) winning percentages are included, as are all clubs at .300 (or worse).
|TOP 7 MINOR LEAGUE TEAMS|
|3||West Michigan||25||11||.694||Midwest||Low A||Tigers||L1||6-4|
|4||Brevard County||24||11||.686||Florida State||High A||Brewers||W1||5-5|
|BOTTOM 7 MINOR LEAGUE TEAMS|
|3||Lansing||11||24||.314||Midwest||Low A||Blue Jays||L4||3-7|
|7||West Virginia||13||24||.351||South Atlantic||Low A||Pirates||L1||6-4|
|Myrtle Beach||13||24||.351||Carolina||High A||Braves||W2||4-6|
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