Baseball America

Prospect Lookback: Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas, who hit 521 homers in a 19-season career, was voted into the Hall of Fame Wednesday as part of a three-man class with 300-game winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

Frank Thomas was named BA's Minor League Player of the Year for 1990.

Frank Thomas was named BA’s Minor League Player of the Year for 1990.

The Big Hurt won two MVPs and finished in the top 10 seven other times in 19 years with the White Sox, Oakland and Toronto.

He hit at least 40 homers five times and was an on-base machine, walking more than 100 times in 10 seasons.

He was the seventh overall pick by the White Sox in 1989 from Auburn University, where he was a tight end as a freshman before giving up football.


See also: Thomas’ 1988 scouting report


In the draft, he was chosen behind Ben McDonald (Baltimore), Tyler Houston (Atlanta), Roger Salkeld (Seattle), Jeff Jackson (Philadelphia), Donald Harris (Texas) and Paul Coleman (St. Louis).

Here was BA’s pre-draft report:

“If it’s power a team is looking for with an early first-round pick, then Auburn’s 6-foot-5, 250-pound 1B Frank Thomas is the man. He’s the top power prospect in the draft and shouldn’t last past the first 12 or 13 picks.”

Thomas compiled a .301/.419/.555 slash line with 1,704 RBIs, 1,494 runs and ranks 20th all-time in OBP, 20th in OPS+ and 10th in walks. In addition, Thomas compiled a 73.6 rWAR.
The negative on Thomas was his defense, or lack of it. He played in 2,322 games, 1,351 as a DH.
He broke into pro ball in the GCL in 1989, and by 1990, he was our Minor League Player of the Year.


In October of 1990, BA’s Mark Ruda looked at Thomas, who began his big league career by going 0-for-6. Thomas turned it around quick, going 15-for-33.

“I was a little antsy,” Thomas said. “I tried to think I was in Birmingham, and just relax. I knew this is a different situation, but I calmed down.”
Thomas didn’t hit a home run in his first 53 at-bats, not exactly living up to his scouting reports.
“I have to keep the patience that I’ve had,” said Thomas, who had 18 homers at Birmingham before his call-up. “That’s the biggest problem I’ve had, to try to hit home runs in my first 10 at-bats. But the home runs will come. I’m a hitter who hits for average. I’m a line-drive hitter.”


Thomas had a chip on his shoulder entering college as he did not get drafted after finishing high school at Columbus (Ga.) High.

“The scouts didn’t like me, I guess,” he told BA’s Rubin Grant in October 1990. “They said I was a football player just playing baseball. Sure, I had some extra weight, but it was just baby fat.”
Rebuffed by baseball scouts, Thomas took a football scholarship at Auburn, where he played tight end.
“There was no doubt that I loved baseball, but I had the size, strength and speed to play football,” Thomas said. “And a lot of people told me I should play football, because I had a better chance to do something.”


Thomas, of course, draws comparisons to Bo Jackson, another two-sport star at Auburn.

“They compared us a lot,” he told BA. “I hit some incredible shots. We both had our share of long, long home runs.”

But while Jackson went on to win a Heisman, Thomas gave up football before the start of his sophomore season after hurting his knee.
In 1989, Thomas led the SEC in hitting with a .403 average and broke the single-season RBI record with 83. Still, he wasn’t among the leading candidates for the Golden Spikes Award.

That continued the “chip-on-shoulder” theme.

“I felt in college I was overshadowed,” he said. “I never got the respect I deserved. I didn’t get all the hype and publicity and I dominated the SEC the way Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro did. I was never considered for the Golden Spikes Award.”

He got the ultimate vindication on Wednesday.

Year Club Class AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OBP SLG OPS
1989 White Sox R .365 17 52 8 19 5 0 1 11 11 3 1 .470 .519 .989
1989 Sarasota A .277 55 188 27 52 9 1 4 30 31 33 0 .386 .399 .785
1990 Birmingham AA .323 109 353 85 114 27 5 18 71 112 74 7 .487 .581 1.068
1990 Chicago MAJ .330 60 191 39 63 11 3 7 31 44 54 0 .454 .529 .983
1991 Chicago MAJ .318 158 559 104 178 31 2 32 109 138 112 1 .453 .553 1.006
1992 Chicago MAJ .323 160 573 108 185 46 2 24 115 122 88 6 .439 .536 .975
1993 Chicago MAJ .317 153 549 106 174 36 0 41 128 112 54 4 .426 .607 1.033
1994 Chicago MAJ .353 113 399 106 141 34 1 38 101 109 61 2 .487 .729 1.216
1995 Chicago MAJ .308 145 493 102 152 27 0 40 111 136 74 3 .454 .606 1.060
1996 Chicago MAJ .349 141 527 110 184 26 0 40 134 109 70 1 .459 .626 1.085
1997 Chicago MAJ .347 146 530 110 184 35 0 35 125 109 69 1 .456 .611 1.067
1998 Chicago MAJ .265 160 585 109 155 35 2 29 109 110 93 7 .381 .480 .861
1999 Chicago MAJ .305 135 486 74 148 36 0 15 77 87 66 3 .414 .471 .885
2000 Chicago MAJ .328 159 582 115 191 44 0 43 143 112 94 1 .436 .625 1.061
2001 Chicago MAJ .221 20 68 8 15 3 0 4 10 10 12 0 .316 .441 .757
2002 Chicago MAJ .252 148 523 77 132 29 1 28 92 88 115 3 .361 .472 .833
2003 Chicago MAJ .267 153 546 87 146 35 0 42 105 100 115 0 .390 .562 .952
2004 Chicago MAJ .271 74 240 53 65 16 0 18 49 64 57 0 .434 .563 .997
2005 Charlotte AAA .190 11 42 3 8 1 0 1 4 4 9 0 .261 .286 .547
2005 Chicago MAJ .219 34 105 19 23 3 0 12 26 16 31 0 .315 .590 .905
2006 Oakland MAJ .270 137 466 77 126 11 0 39 114 81 81 0 .381 .545 .926
2007 Toronto MAJ .277 155 531 63 147 30 0 26 95 81 94 0 .377 .480 .857
2008 Toronto MAJ .167 16 60 7 10 1 0 3 11 11 13 0 .306 .333 .639
2008 Oakland MAJ .263 55 186 20 49 6 1 5 19 28 44 0 .364 .387 .751
Major League Totals .301 2322 8199 1494 2468 495 12 521 1704 1667 1397 32 .419 .555 .974
Minor League Totals .304 192 635 123 193 42 6 24 116 158 119 8 .445 .502 .947

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