Washington Nationals: Is Lane Thomas The Long Term Answer?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 28: Lane Thomas #28 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after scoring on Alcides Escobar #3 single in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on August 28, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 28: Lane Thomas #28 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after scoring on Alcides Escobar #3 single in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on August 28, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /
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Viewed as an afterthought, Lane Thomas burst onto the scene with the Nats last year. Was his hot start sustainable?

2021 was supposed to be the year Victor Robles bounced back and put everything together. Ranked the fourth-best prospect in 2019 by MLB Pipeline, he has yet to live up to his immense potential.

Instead, his 2021 season was dreadful, hitting .203, with two homers, 19 RBIs, and an OPS of .605 in 107 games. He was demoted to AAA in September due to his struggles and also in part to the hot start of Lane Thomas.

Acquired from the Cardinals in a trade for Jon Lester, Thomas failed to break into St. Louis’s outfield and was relegated to the bench before being sent back to AAA. In Washington, the change of scenery paid dividends and he immediately started to flourish. In 46 ABs in August, he slashed .304/.407/.457, with an OPS of .864. His early success led to fans jumping on the “Lane Train”,

Over the month of September, he proved his hot start wasn’t a fluke, slashing .277/.365/.538/, with seven homers, 21 RBIs, and an OPS of .903. However, at times he was too free with his swing, striking out 32 strikeouts while drawing 17 walks.

He finished the season hitting .270, with seven homers, and 28 RBIs, with an OPS of .853. After bursting onto the scene, he floundered down the stretch, but impressed to the point some believe he should be the starter moving forward.

Yes, Thomas provided a spark when it was needed the most. His mix of power and speed allowed for the 26-year-old to pick up where Kyle Schwarber and Trea Turner left off as the leadoff hitter. But once the luster of Thomas’s exciting play wore off, he started to show signs of why he was unable to run away with the starting job in St. Louis.

What stood out the most was the wide difference in his splits against righties and lefties. He hit lefties well, slashing .381/.500/.603/ with an OPS of 1.103 in 63 at-bats. But against righties, he slashed.178/.274/.337, with an OPS of .612 in 163 at-bats.

Despite being able to get on base at a consistent clip, he still struck out 46 times with the Nats in only 45 games. He was able to draw 27 free bases.

Thomas will need to improve against righties if he wants to stay in the lineup full time. Lowering his strikeouts will go a major way to helping in that regard and he will need to improve defensively. Last year he recorded seven outfield assists, with -1 DRS, and a -3.8 UZR in center.

For now, it’s too early to tell if Thomas was just a flash in the pan or a diamond in the rough. FanGraphs ZiPs projections for his 2022 season believe he will regress, with a projected wRC+ of 95 (he posted a 103 last season).

Yet, with a slightly improved lineup, Thomas will have plenty of opportunities to prove he can sustain his early success.

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