The Diamondbacks announced today that they have optioned outfielder Alek Thomas to Triple-A Reno, recalling right-hander Luis Frías in a corresponding move.
Thomas, 23, has been one of the club’s most notable prospects in recent years. He was selected in the second round of the 2018 draft and featured on Baseball America’s top 100 list in three straight years starting in 2020, with his speed and defense drawing particularly high praise.
He’s now been in the majors for roughly a full season of work, getting into 152 games between last year and this year. The speed and defense parts of his game have been apparent, with Statcast pegging his sprint speed in the 89th percentile among qualified position players this year, though he’s stolen just seven bases in 11 attempts in his career thus far. In terms of his glovework, he’s already accrued nine Defensive Runs Saved and seven Outs Above Average in center field in his short career, as well as earning a grade of 3.7 from Ultimate Zone Rating.
The problem has been his work at the plate. Though Thomas hit very well in the minors, he hasn’t produced much in his 534 major league plate appearances thus far. He has 10 home runs but has walked in just 5.6% of his trips to the plate and has slashed .223/.270/.340 for a wRC+ of 68. That includes a paltry .195/.252/.327 line here in 2023. A career .257 batting average on balls in play likely suggests there’s a bit of bad luck in there, but it’s been a fairly uninspiring showing overall.
The Diamondbacks went into the winter with a surplus of young outfielders, including Thomas, Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy and Daulton Varsho. They felt good enough about the group that they were frequently rumored to be discussing those players in trades, eventually sending Varsho to the Blue Jays for Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. However, Thomas is now the second member of that group to wind up back in the minors after posting disappointing results, as McCarthy was sent down last month.
In addition to his own struggles, the demotion of Thomas seems to have been spurred by the ascendance of Dominic Fletcher, who was promoted a few weeks ago and has hit .377/.400/.604 in his first 15 games. He won’t sustain a .429 BABIP forever but it seems the D’Backs are riding the hot hand and will give Fletcher a chance to stretch his results over a longer sample of playing time. He figures to be the regular center fielder for now, flanked by Gurriel and Carroll with Pavin Smith in the fourth outfielder slot.
Thomas, meanwhile, will head to Reno and try to get back into a groove at the plate. From a service time perspective, he came into this season with 151 days and has already gone over the one-year mark, which is 172 days. Assuming he’s recalled at some point this season, today’s option won’t affect his free agency trajectory but it could impact his ability to reach arbitration after 2024 as a Super Two player, depending on the eventual length of time between now and his next recall.