Men Or Myth?

RALEIGH, N.C.–OK. So I’ve spent the better part of the last week trying to get to the bottom of a burning question: Just how good are these two guys who are unleashing havoc on opposing pitchers in two of the nation’s most respected college baseball conferences?

In case you’ve been buried under some blanket of college basketball brackets for the past month, Kyle Russell and Tony Thomas are in the midst of monumentally good offensive seasons Premium, they’re doing it in the Big 12 and ACC, respectively, and they’re both draft eligible players whose stock wasn’t sniffing NASDAQ eight weeks ago.

We broke down Russell, he of the NCAA-best 18 home runs, in the latest Draft Dish, which investigated the class’ power hitters. So hopefully you’re a subscriber and can check that out . . . and tonight, I got another first-hand look at TTJ, or Tony Thomas, Jr., the junior second baseman from Florida State who entered tonight’s series opener at NC State with a cool .496 average . . . this season.

Tony Thomas, you ask? The same Tony Thomas that struck out 66 times as a sophomore last season, sixth-most in the nation?

Yes sir, that one.

The same Tony Thomas that batted .240 and struck out 75 times in 2005, the second-most whiffs in NCAA Division I baseball?


Scouts speak frequently of analyzing the track records of players, especially those players in college. That’s one of the great benefits of evaluating college players, that you have a deep history, a body of work to make your judgment on, something that isn’t always as readily available when trying to make a $1 million decision on a high school prospect.

Well the only track record Thomas had entering this season was the one he was wearing out back to the dugout.

But after watching him two weekends in a row and talking to multiple scouts, I’m confident in saying that TTJ is for real. We’re not talking Mark-Kotsay for real, and he’s not going to finish the season with a better batting average than your NCAA bracket’s winning percentage (well, I certainly hope, for you sake, it wasn’t that bad). But the adjustments Thomas has made at the plate, and his approach and his tools, make him a legitimate pro prospect.

He’s opened his stance, and he says that’s been the key to his improvement this season. Apparently, he wasn’t seeing the ball as well as he is now that his front foot is angled toward third base and his head is squared up better to the pitcher. I’m sure it’s never looked better to the Valrico, Fla., product.

Thomas’ display in batting practice was once again outstanding, and although he collected only one hit in tonight’s 10-4 FSU win, the hit he had was a rocket off the wall in left-center field. And his line-out to the warning track in straight-away center field in the first inning, well that ball–the first pitch he saw tonight–most likely now has the consistency of the hard boiled eggs your kids will be painting this weekend.

He has balance in his setup, looseness in his hands, above-average bat speed and lets the ball travel deep before releasing the barrel. His approach is solid–he worked up the middle, hit the ball hard the other way, and showed good plate discipline.

Profiling him might be tough, as he plays second base well but is just an average runner with fringe-average range, and isn’t terribly fluid turning the double play. But he has a chance to hit for average with 10-15 home run power as a professional.

Thomas looks more like the man, not the myth.