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Hall of Fame Flashback: Tribe's Thome Goes On Warpath

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This article originally appeared in the Dec. 25, 1990 issue of Baseball America.

CLEVELAND - It's possible that five years from now the 1989 draft will be remembered in Cleveland not as the one in which the Indians failed to sign top pick Calvin Murray, but rather as the draft in which they stole Jim Thome in the 13th round.

Thome, 20, a lefthanded-hitting third baseman, exploded onto the landscape of the organization in 1990 byposting Canseco-esque numbers at Rookie-level Burlington and Class A Kinston.

In 34 games in the Appalachian League, he batted .373-12-34 with a monstrous .754 slugging percentage. He was promoted to Kinston, and in 33 games there batted .308 and had a .462 slugging percentage. His combined statistics for the season: .340 average, 16 home runs, 50 RBIs, 51 walks, 50 runs and a .609 slugging percentage.

"He has a chance to be a hell of a third baseman," farm director Dan O'Dowd said. "We knew he could develop into a good player when we drafted him. But the quickness with which he has adapted to pro ball has surprised us."

Thome was drafted as a shortstop out of Illinois Central Junior College. In 1989 in the Gulf Coast League, his stats were hardly eye-openers (.237-0-22). But this year the 6-foot-3, 200-pound infielder was moved to third base, and he went on a season-long hitting spree that resulted in his being named winner of the Lou Boudreau award, given to the Indians' top minor league player.

O'Dowd said he projects Thome hitting in the .270-.280 range in the big leagues, with 20-25 home runs and 70-90 RBIs.

"Right now he just needs to play some more to get better," O'Dowd said. "If he played well in spring training next year, I could possibly see him starting next season at Double-A."

Thome was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Appalachian League in the Nov. 10, 1990 issue of Baseball America. Here is his report written by Dean Gyorgy.

1. JIM THOME, 3b, Burlington. In Thome's 34 games in the league, he put numbers on the board and fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers. He was on pace to contend for a triple crown before getting called to Class A Kinston, where he hit .308-4-16 in 33 games.

"I saw him in instructional league last year, and it didn't look like the same kid," Kingsport manager Jim Thrift said. "He has the ability to stay back and use the whole field. I have to give him credit for improving his defense. too."

Thome was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Eastern League in the Oct. 10, 1991 issue in an article entitled "Thome Continues Amazing Ascent." Here is his report written by Bill Palmer.

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1. JIM THOME, 3b, Canton-Akron Indians. How does a 13th-round selection two seasons out of junior college emerge as the best prospect in a Double-A League? With hard work and a near-insatiable thirst for the game.

"Coaching third base, you get a chance to talk to him, get inside his head a little bit," Harrisburg manager Mike Quade said. "He's always talking about situations. He's fearless at the plate, and he has a good idea of what he wants to do up there."

"He hits well, and even though he doesn't run real well, he's got a quick first step at third base," said New Britain manager Gary Allenson. "He's a line-drive hitter who has power potential, and he has a great mental outlook."

"He's turned into a plus defensive player," said Thome's own manager, Ken Bolek. "Offensively he's capable of hitting for a high average with power. He's going to improve his home run totals, and he has outstanding makeup. He's a gamer."

Thome didn't turn 21 until after his promotion. He had little trouble playing third base at sometimes tricky Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium, showing a willingness to give up his body to make a play.

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