20 plate appearances into his Nationals tenure and Lane Thomas looks like an absolute steal. But his recent success raises plenty of questions.
Lane Thomas turned plenty of heads this weekend after bursting onto the scene against the Milwaukee Brewers. Across three games, the 25-year-old went 7-11, with three RBIs, and three extra-base hits, while drawing three walks.
Acquired for Jon Lester from the St. Louis Cardinals at the trade deadline, Thomas has replaced Victor Robles, who is feeling under the weather, in center. Robles, who is quickly running out of chances in Washington, was put on notice by Thomas’s impressive weekend.
However, it wasn’t just this weekend, with Thomas excelling since the day he was called up. Be it a small sample size, in 20 plate appearances, Thomas has an insane slash line of .600/.700/.867, with two RBIs, five walks, and an OPS of 1.567. Yes, this type of hot streak is unsustainable, but it raises a flurry of questions.
Is this just a flash in the pan or is Thomas finally living up to his potential? How did he only go 5-48 at the plate with the Cardinals? How was Mike Rizzo able to flip a struggling rental in Lester for five years of Thomas? All are fair questions.
Recently, the Cardinals are starting to be known for having players break out after they leave. Is Thomas the next to follow in the footsteps of Randy Arozarena and Adolis Garcia? His blazing start to his Nationals career says yes, but six games is a mighty small sample size.
Back when Thomas was in St. Louis, he hit a measly .172, with five homers, 15 RBIs, and an OPS of .625 in 84 games. He made his MLB debut with the Cardinals in 2019 and impressed with a slash line of .316/.409/.684 in 34 games. But injuries and inconsistencies took their toll, with the outfielder never being able to rediscover his swing. This season was no different, with Thomas hitting .101, with a .384 OPS, while drawing only 10 walks compared to 17 strikeouts in 38 games.
COVID derailed his 2020 season and it took a while for Thomas to get back into the thick of things. This played a part in his struggles to start the year and it didn’t help that he only played sparingly. Thomas was called up and down with regularity and was thrust in and out of the lineup that it was hard for him to find a rhythm.
A change of scenery with Washington, a team that is rebuilding is a perfect fit for Thomas who just needs reps. He started at the Nationals Triple-A affiliate and slashed .385/.385/.692 across three games. His hot start gave way to his quick promotion and Thomas made his Nats debut going 2-4, with a walk.
When he was climbing the St. Louis Cardinals farm system ranks, he was known for having impressive tools and he has finally started to put everything together. It hasn’t just been at the plate where Thomas has made his presence felt, but also on the basepaths and in the field.
In fact, Thomas has shown he has the tools to take over from Trea Turner at the top of the lineup. He has reached base in 14 of his 20 plate appearances, proving that he has the ability to consistently get on. And when he gets on, he can be a threat to steal thanks to his blazing speed.
Defensively, Thomas has flashed his arm, gunning out a runner at second from deep center that tried to tag up.
Even if Thomas never pans out, that trade will always raise eyebrows. At the time it went down, Lester had shown that he was at the end of his career and was a shell of his former self. He posted a 5.02 ERA across 16 starts and it was widely assumed no one would give anything up for him. St. Louis saw Thomas as expendable and viewed Lester as a player that could help bolster their rotation. Instead, Lester is 1-1, with a 7.08 ERA in four starts.
The Cardinals are 12 games behind the Brewers for first in the division and are 4.5 games back of the Reds for the second wildcard. Lester’s acquisition hasn’t done much to move the needle and cost the team a player with multiple years left of control.
Thomas will be vying with the struggling Victor Robles, resilient Yadiel Hernandez, and speedy Andrew Stevenson for an outfield spot moving forward. Only time will tell if Thomas has what it takes to stick or if he was another one-hit-wonder.