St. Louis Cardinals: Breaking down the Lane Thomas hype

ST LOUIS, MO - APRIL 24: Lane Thomas #35 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a single during the sixth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium on April 24, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - APRIL 24: Lane Thomas #35 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a single during the sixth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium on April 24, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images) /

The hype around St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lane Thomas took on a whole new identity this past offseason. His 2019 sample size was exciting, but questions remain. Is Thomas worthy of the hype?

When the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Lane Thomas in 2017 from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for international signing bonus pool money, the move was met with a collective shrug of the shoulders. Thomas, 24, found his way into a crowded outfield mix with little promises for consistent playing time as the major league level.

Thomas made a splash, however, by homering in his first at-bat in the big leagues in 2019 against the New York Mets. Since that moment, fans were eager to see more. Thomas had made it to the show and was already back on stage for a curtain call.

As 2019 went on, Thomas found few more opportunities. In 38 at-bats he worked his way to a .316 average. Unfortunately, Thomas was hit by a pitch on the wrist toward the end of the season and was eventually placed on the 60-day injured list, thus ending his season.

When the 2019 offseason got started, the Cardinals had a focus to clear some outfield clutter. They traded Adolis Garcia to the Rangers and made a big trade with the Rays for pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore. That trade sent away two more outfielders in Randy Arozarena and fan-favorite Jose Martinez. With Marcell Ozuna also departing as a free agent, the depth chart in the outfield opened up dramatically.

All during the winter and into spring, we kept hearing the name, Lane Thomas. The team was talking Thomas up and the hype machine kicked into overtime. Some fans were jumping into the hype and looking at Thomas as a potential difference-maker. But is he?

Let me start off by saying I like Thomas and I think he’s a fine player. His combination of defense, speed, and occasional power is an intriguing skill set. Personally, I would like to see Thomas get the starting center field job and see how he can do. Harrison Bader had a disappointing season from an offensive perspective in 2019 and could find his leash being short if he struggles to start the 2020 season.

Center field is the position likely best suited for Thomas. I have my doubts about whether his bat plays in a corner spot, and the Cardinals certainly need to find some thump from somewhere after letting Ozuna depart in free agency.

Looking at Thomas’ career minor league stats, you’ll notice an outlier. His 2018 season was remarkable. He had a career-high 27 home runs and 88 RBI. His batting average was a respectable .264. Those are good numbers and would do fine replacing Ozuna in left field.

For the rest of his minor league career, his numbers were a far cry from that 2018 breakout season. His home run totals were consistently in single digits, although he did hit 14 home runs in 2019 between the majors and minors. Prior to his sample size at the MLB level in 2019, he never hit higher than .281, and that was his 2014 season in rookie ball. His OBP that season of .369 was also a career-high, taking away his 2019 MLB sample.

Some fans have different metrics and numbers that they use to look at and evaluate players. I personally prefer the more traditional stats.

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There is no doubt that Lane Thomas made a name for himself in 2019 and has the team and fans understandably excited to see more. He deserves that chance to show that his 2018 and 2019 numbers are the real deal. With those occurring in back to back and recent seasons, it leads me to believe that the power might be legitimately blossoming as he gets older.

With that said, it is also possible that his power might be propelled a bit by a hypothetical juiced ball, as some theories suggest, and his major league sample size could be a factor of major league pitching not having the book on him yet. Pitchers will likely make adjustments so it will be interesting to see how Thomas adjusts to that.

Looking at Thomas’ profile, I see a good fourth outfielder with the potential to be an everyday player in center field. If his newfound power is for real, he could find his way into a corner spot. His floor seems to be high enough to suggest he’s a major league player, I’m just unsure if his ceiling supports the hype that he is an everyday player.

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Lane Thomas made his debut with a splash and ended his run around the bases with a curtain call. While it is yet to be seen if his time in the spotlight will amount to stardom, it doesn’t seem like he’s ready to exit stage left any time soon.