Blue Jays Prospect Jake Thomas Is an OBP Machine

Jake Thomas is flying under the radar with a sky-high OBP. Playing on a Lansing Lugnuts team that features some of the top prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays system, the 23-year-old outfielder has logged 17 hits, and drawn 27 walks, in 84 plate appearances. His slash line is an eye-popping .315/.536/.407.

On-base percentage was his MO in college — Thomas slashed .322/.453/.470 at SUNY Binghamton — but MLB clubs weren’t exactly clamoring to procure his services. He went undrafted in 2014, and when he joined the Blue Jays organization a year later, it was as a 27th-round senior sign. When he reported to rookie ball, he did so with a degree in finance and the odds against him.

The uphill battle continued last summer. Despite having put up a .393 OBP in the Gulf Coast League, Thomas began his first full professional season in extended spring training. He was subsequently promoted to Low-A Lansing, in June, but his first go-round with the Lugnuts was pedestrian at best. As Courtney Barnett sang on Saturday Night Live, the left-handed hitter “made a mess of what should be a small success.” He slashed just .244/.326/.315.

A month into the current campaign, his performance belongs on a pedestal. He’s recorded the highest on-base percentage in the minor leagues by some margin. Plate discipline, and confidence in his bat-to-ball skills, are the reasons why.

“I focus on not trying to do too much at the plate,” Thomas told me on Thursday. “I just try to stay relaxed and play to my strength, which is seeing the ball. You also have to control what you want to do. If you don’t have a plan, there’s no way you can take pitches that are close, or not be swinging at pitches you shouldn’t be swinging at in certain counts.”

Thomas elaborated that he zeroes in on a specific area. If the pitch isn’t there, he lets it go. That includes pitches within the strike zone, even when he has the advantage. He’s likewise willing to fall behind in the count. As the Merrick, New York, native explained, “I feel so comfortable hitting with two strikes that it doesn’t matter.”

Getting to The Show does matter to him, but at the same time, he’s not about to lose sleep stressing about the likelihood of it ever happening. He’s well aware that having an OBP north of .500 only means so much when you’re 23 years old and playing in the Midwest League. More so, it’s hard to get fast-tracked when your teammates include Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bradley Jones, Josh Palacios, and J.B. Woodman.

“If someone views me a prospect, or doesn’t view me as a prospect, that’s their opinion,” rationalized Thomas. “I just try to control what I can can control. I put some pressure on myself when I first started out, but the more pressure you put on yourself, the worse you’re going to do. Making it to the big leagues is every minor leaguer’s dream, but at this point I just go out there and do my best, and whatever baseball has planned for me is what I’m going to get out of it.”

Right now, what’s he getting out of it is an on-base percentage that would make Wade Boggs blush. Five weeks into what he hopes is his breakout season, Thomas is quietly making origami out of minor-league pitching.



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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Dominikk85
Member

Walks without power usually don’t translate to the majors. I think unless he develops more power he is another tyler white at best (but with less power).

His batting eye probably is good but mlb pitchers can throw strikes and only ok contact with no power won’t play.

CJ03
Member
CJ03

On the other hand, power without plate discipline gives you Byron Buxton, and we’ve all seen how far that goes

Dominikk85
Member

Buxtons problem is not plate discipline but contact. His walk rate even this year is above average, he just can’t make contact. Also he has shown glimpses of power but not really enough to offset the Ks.

Low contact with good power and walks can work.power without plate discipline is not great but it can play at least kind of OK (andruw jones, Soriano, odor).

Strikeouts with without power doesn’t really work in most cases and walks usually only hold up if you have some kind of power.

Llewdor
Guest
Llewdor

If he develops the skill to foul off strikes, that might work. Then he’d basically be forcing pitchers to walk him.

Azizal
Member
Member
Azizal

Kind of like Takuya Nakashima!

FrancoLuvHateMets
Member
FrancoLuvHateMets

Luis Castillo is one of the rare guys that I’ve seen make it work. He also brought value with his glove and legs which is why he was even given a chance in the bigs though.

YKnotDisco
Member
YKnotDisco

Some other examples are: Reggie Willits (2006-11); as far as BB with no power. 12.7 BB% with a 0.44 ISO (only 1014 PA). Otis Nixon (1983-1999) had a BB% of 10.1 and an ISO of 0.45 (5800 PA).

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