ALTOONA — The regular season is underway for the Pittsburgh Pirates Double-A affiliate, and prospects can now dream of making it to the big league level and achieving a lifelong dream.
One of those players trying to achieve that dream is a right-handed flame thrower, Tahnaj Thomas.
The Bahamas native is entering his fifth season in the Pirates’ system and is looking to have a breakout year now that he knows what his role is in this club.
For a while, the Pirates used Thomas in a more traditional starter role, and although he had the fastball and slider working for him, he just seemed to struggle with command and adding that elusive third pitch.
Eventually, in the 2022 season, the Pirates transitioned him to the bullpen, where he was used in more of a closer role and a high-leverage guy.
Thomas posted his best ERA since he began his minor league career with a 3.02 ERA as well as dropped his walk totals by 15 from 2021’s numbers.
Prior to the Curve’s opening game, I had the pleasure of talking with Thomas about his maturation as a pitcher, and even his experience in the World Baseball Classic pitching for Great Brittian.
“Going to the WBC was a great experience,” said Thomas. “Just being out there with a lot of my brothers, and guys I grew up with. Being able to play with those guys on the main stage is really cool. Being in an environment like that was like pitching in a major league game with all of those fans screaming. It felt like the ground was shaking. I learned from a lot of guys in the bullpen, and a lot of those guys pitched in the big leagues. A lot of life lessons were learned.”
Looking at Altoona’s roster, it seemed like there were a lot of repeat guys. There were several players who were on the Curve roster in ’22, and I wanted to get a feel for where Thomas’ mind was at, knowing he was starting at the same level he was at last year.
“I’m not really upset about it. I still have to pitch, and I still have to do my job to help this team win. My mentality is just going out there and filling up the zone and throwing as many strikes as possible. My main goal this year is to throw as many strikes as possible and go from there.”
Thomas’ mentality is one of someone who is a mature individual and someone who sees the ultimate goal or finish line.
Eventually, we transitioned into his role on the Curve and how he will be used throughout the season, and if this would be a role with him moving forward with this club.
“I will be used out of the pen mostly, but you never know if I’ll be needed for a spot start here and there. We talked about it in spring training a bit, so I might get a start, or I might get two to three innings. For the most part, I’ll be used out of the pen, and I’ll be used more toward the back end in more of a high-leverage situation mostly.”
One of the things that have held Thomas back from making big strides in his career has been the development and control of his breaking pitches.
“My breaking stuff has been getting really good coming off of last year and entering into this year. Throwing my breaking stuff during spring training, I can say that it’s been better than last year. I’m throwing my slider a bit harder, and I have a much better feel with the changeup. I’ve also added a two-seam to help with my arsenal.”
Adding a two-seam should really help with Thomas’ overall stuff, if he can get a pitch to sink on hitters, it should help with limiting hard contact, and mirror his changeup until the last second.
In terms of velocity, his four-seam is sitting around 95-97 mph, but he told me he hopes it ramps up now that he’s mostly coming out of the pen.