A change of scenes and the implementation of a recently developed cutter provided Connor Thomas a rebound from a season of struggles with Class AAA Memphis to success in the desert among some of baseball’s top prospects.
The 24-year-old left-hander’s efforts were recognized on Saturday as the Arizona Fall League pitcher of the year after he led with 34 strikeouts and was second among starters with a 1.75 ERA. Thomas walked five batters across 25 2/3 innings and posted 1.05 WHIP for the Salt River Rafters — the team Cardinals, Tigers, Rockies, Blue Jays, and Diamondbacks prospects were assigned to.
He entered the AFL following a Class AAA season where he had a 5.47 ERA and 15% strikeout rate in 135 innings. Thomas struck out 32% of the batters he faced in the fall league and became the National League’s starting pitcher in the annual Fall Stars Game.
As the NL Fall Stars’ starter, Thomas pitched a scoreless inning on eight pitches and struck out one batter. One of his most effective starts came on Oct. 17 when he notched 10 strikeouts in four innings. He followed that up by fanning seven in five innings on Oct. 25.
The strong performance from the Georgia Tech product could factor into upcoming roster decisions for the Cardinals.
Thomas — a fifth-round pick in the 2019 who spent time in big-league camp this past spring training — is one of three players within the Cardinals minor-league system that is eligible for the Rule 5 draft on Dec. 7. The other two are right-handed pitchers Inohan Paniagua and Dionys Rodriguez, both of whom ended this past season with Class High-A Peoria.
In order for the Cardinals to protect a player from the Rule 5 draft, they must add them to their 40-man roster by 5 p.m. St. Louis time on Nov. 15.
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