Turn the clocks back a year and we would have seen outfielder Dillon Thomas gaining traction in the Rockies prospect discussions. He had just been voted #28 in the Purple Row PuRPs poll after a strong appearance in Casper where he hit safely in 13 of 15 games and posted a solid .328/.361/.414 slash line. Selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft as an 18 year old out of Houston, Thomas had a chance to attend Texas A&M on scholarship, but instead chose to pursue his dream of playing professional baseball.
Fast forward to this season and he's been all but forgotten by prospect fans due to a tough 24 games at Tri City where his numbers fell to a disappointing .214/.347/.250 slash line.
I approached Dillon after seeing a bulked up version of him on Instagram this spring. Thomas reported to camp 30 pounds heavier than his draft weight- all muscle according to the prospect. In this interview he talks about what happened last year and how a recurring hamate injury derailed his season. He also talks about the park factors at Gesa Stadium in Tri City and how they help pitchers and outfielders. Perhaps if he's healthy this season, Dillon can earn his way back into those prospect discussions.
Charlie Drysdale: Coming out of high school in Houston, you had the chance to play for Texas A&M or sign with the Rockies. What was it like being drafted and was it a tough decision to forego college and become a professional baseball player?
Dillon Thomas: Being drafted out of HS for me was a dream that became a reality, playing ball my whole life I had and still say that the only thing I want to do is be a Major League Baseball player and being drafted that day just meant I was one step closer to reaching that goal. Turning down my scholarship offer to sign and go play pro ball was pretty much a no brainer for me. Like I said when the only thing you've ever wanted to achieve in life is to play in the big leagues and to have that opportunity placed in front you can't turn it down.
CD: Last year you were injured, what happened and do you feel completely healed now?
DT: Last year I was injured again for the second year in a row with a broken hamate bone in my right hand. At the end of my first season in Casper I broke my hamate bone on a check swing that kept me out the last week of the season. That offseason I had surgery to have it removed, it felt good when I showed up to spring training last year but 11 games into the season it started to bother me again so after getting an x-ray I found out that I had regrown the bone that was removed and re broke it. Because of that I underwent a second surgery on it that kept me out most of the year but now it feels strong and ready to go. I am excited to see what will happen this year with a healthy hand.
CD: Wow, I didn't realize a hamate bone could be regrown, that's interesting, were you and the doctors surprised?
DT: Everyone that I talked with about it was really shocked. When I first went to get the x-ray in Tri City the hand specialist at the hospital asked if I "was sure that I had hamate surgery" because in the film he was looking at the bone was still there. It was definitely a weird experience, but something after the fact that you can kind of joke about. Like a couple of the trainers have said, "You should be the spokesperson for milk."
CD: This will be your second Spring Training, how did you prepare for this one after you've experienced it once before?
DT: Last year's offseason being my first offseason, after a pro season and I didn't really know what to prepare my body for. Coming back for my first spring training but this year I had a pretty solid plan on what I was going to do to prepare for a full season. Baseball being an everyday grind you have to prepare your body to handle the stress that playing everyday has to present. I try to push my body to the limit because in my mind if you fail in the offseason, there's no failure during the season, because you have already experienced it.
CD: You look bigger and stronger this year, what did you do to bulk up in the off-season?
DT: I really didn't try to get any bigger or bulk up it's just one of those things where I woke up everyday and just put in the work. I actually dropped a couple of pounds from what I reported as last spring. I showed up at 228 almost 230 last year to where this year I showed up at 225 and dropped a little body fat as well.
CD: What was it like playing in Tri City last year, some people say that it's more of a pitcher's park compared to Casper and the Pioneer League, did you notice a difference?
DT: Tri City is definitely a pitchers park, that's something that can be found out with just a couple rounds of BP. You have the wind blowing right into your face as a left handed hitter so hitting a ball out to right is next to impossible there. I saw so many ball hit well by guys that you thought were going to be gappers that got held up in the wind and ran down. Definitely made playing outfield a little more fun, knowing that you were going to make more plays on balls than expected.
CD: What are your goals for this season?
DT: I really only have one simple goal for this year and it is to stay healthy. If I stay healthy I feel that anything can happen with how prepared I feel coming into this year.
CD: If you had the chance to work out with any current major league player and pick their brain, who would it be and why?
DT: The one player who I would love to work with and be around to pick his brain would definitely be Albert Pujols. Is probably the best hitter in the game right now and the way he does things at the plate is simple. He has a swing to where he doesn't really ever try to do too much yet the things he does is ridiculous. I would definitely love to have some of that rub off on me.
CD: Thank you Dillon for taking the time to share with us on Purple Row.
DT: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be interviewed. I am really humbled when I am given opportunities like this. God Bless.
Home Park Factors
A recent article by MiLB.com called: Home is (maybe) where the offense is, listed their park factors from 2008-2012 and ranked the parks against each other in Runs scored, Home Runs and Hits allowed in each league. The lists presents comparison stats that many prospect watchers have speculated on, but this article confirmed some of those suspicions.
The release of these figures makes for an intriguing analysis of player performances when we consider the park factors involved. For instance, Kyle Parker was ranked by Baseball America as the Rockies top power hitter after the 2012 season based on a season where he hit 23 home runs and produced a .254 ISO. So how did Modesto's John Thurman field play into Parker's power swing? Well one of the interesting stats released by this park factors article was that Modesto ranked dead last in home runs allowed out of all the parks listed in Low-A through Triple-A. Modesto's home stadium received a park factor of only .508 in the home run category.
Parker hit 10 of his 23 home runs at home, but when we consider that the average stadium gives up twice the number of bombs as Modesto, it's not hard to envision that even in an injury-shortened season, Kyle could have finished 2012 with well over 30 home runs at a standardized home park. Another revealing stat that adds to this argument is the six triples Kyle legged out at home with none on the road. Six triples is a lot for a player not known for having great baseball speed.
Nolan Arenado also had a strange power split in his time at Modesto when he finished with 20 home runs, but only six were struck at home. Last season he moved to ONEOK Field in Tulsa and the more neutral Texas League where he hit only 12 home runs. Could it be that Thurman Field is skewed because the rest of the CAL league is so easy to hit at? Well considering Nolan also hit three triples at home in Modesto and none on the road, in addition to the low park factor, the evidence suggests that Modesto's home park does suppress home run power.
More Top 100 March Madness
Two more notable Top Prospect lists were revealed this week when Fangraphs released its Top 100 list penned by Marc Hulet and Minor League Ball's Top 150 by John Sickels were also announced.
Both disagreed on Colorado's top prospect as Fangraphs chose Nolan Arenado and Sickels was higher on Trevor Story, however they both agreed with other lists that include Story, Arenado and Dahl in some way. Notable in Sickels review was the addition of Kyle Parker in the 84th position and Corey Dickerson as an honorable mention. Both were nonroster invitees to Big League camp this spring and Dickerson is still with the club hitting a healthy .375/.450/.563 in 14 Spring games.
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Minor League Links
Isotopes' New Humidor Looks to Further Improve Team's Pitching Staff in 2013| Milb.com - The Dodgers affiliate will be following in the footsteps of Rockies Triple-A park Security Service field as they install their own humidor this season. Also mentioned is Cuban defector Yasiel Puig, who is believed to be headed for an Isotopes uniform.
Arenado ready to finish what he started this spring | Rockies.mlb.com - Nolan Arenado is cooling down, but he's still making it difficult for the Rockies to send him down.
The Colorado Rockies announced today that nine (9) players have been sent to Minor League camp | Rockies.mlb.com - Several non-roster invitees were sent back to Minor League camp to work on their game.
Scouting Dahl, White and other Rockies | ESPN.com - Insider piece on Keith Law's observations of a Rockies Single-A game yesterday. It's a good read for Rockies fans.