Thomas' Game Coming Full Circle

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. – Tony Thomas has added some pop to his bat in his first season at Double-A. In just 49 games with the Tennessee Smokies, the 22-year-old second baseman has already topped his career high for home runs in a season with eight; one more than he hit in 113 games at Class High-A Daytona in 2008.

Thomas' increased power numbers have not been something he's specifically focused on with the Smokies.

"I'm not going to go out there and try to hit home runs, especially in the leadoff spot. I'm just going to go out there and try and get on base and take the power numbers as they come," Thomas said.

"I'm just trying to get on base any way I can. I think the main thing is just that my swing has been going pretty good this season and I'm getting a lot of balls on the barrel."

Although he may not be focusing on hitting for power, Thomas knows that becoming a well-rounded hitter can improve his chances of reaching the big leagues.

"I think so," Thomas said of the power numbers improving his prospect status. "Now I'm not just known as a guy to slap the ball and get on base. I'm more of a threat with guys in scoring position."

Thomas' body (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) resembles the mold of Cubs leadoff man Alfonso Soriano (6-foot-1, 180), and Thomas has worked hard to sustain such a build.

"I've definitely been trying to work out at least three times a week. Not just to get big but mainly just to maintain," Thomas says of his workout regimen.

That's not the only thing in Thomas' game that resembles Soriano. Although his base stealing numbers are down this season with only three stolen bases compared to 22 with Daytona in 2008 and 28 with Class-A Boise in 2007, it's the threat of Thomas running that has helped his teammates.

"I realize pitchers are more conscious of me on first base. Pitchers are quicker to the plate and I'm not getting a lot of stealing pitch counts. I think it's a good thing. Hitters say they like hitting behind me because every time I get on first base, the pitchers are trying to be quicker to the plate and generally trying to throw a lot of fastballs," Thomas said.

"I'll take the steals as they come, but if it's going to help the team out with pitchers being quicker to the plate and my team getting better pitches to hit, I'll definitely take that."

Thomas' sense of team play isn't just while he's on the bases, either. He also uses his time at the plate to aid the teammates who hit after him.

"When I lead off early in the game, I try to work the count a little bit. That way everybody on the team gets to see what kind of pitches he has," Thomas said.

"He's been kind of our spark plug when he leads off," Smokies manager Ryne Sandberg said of Thomas.

Playing for Sandberg, the Cubs Hall of Fame second baseman, has been especially beneficial to Thomas' development defensively. Sandberg has specifically worked with Thomas on staying active when fielding his position.

"The one main thing that he's recently been telling me is that you can be exhausted and not have one ball hit to you because he's always preaching about keeping the feet moving, keeping the feet moving. That's definitely helped with a lot of balls and I think it has increased my range and makes me more ready for a ball hit at me," Thomas says.

"He knows what to do. He's been through everything that I'm going to go through and more, so I definitely pick every bit that I can from him."

Sandberg also sees Thomas developing defensively.

"He's got all the tools," Sandberg said. "I like his body and the way that he moves out there. He's working on a daily basis to improve on that. I've been real impressed with his turning of the double plays up to this point. He hasn't missed too many double plays that he should have turned so I've been impressed with that."

What really shines through about Thomas is the selfless and mature way in which he approaches the game. He puts the team first and prepares himself to do whatever it takes to help the team win, even when it's not beneficial to his personal statistics. It's the kind of approach that gets players to the next level.

With that personality, it's no surprise that when Thomas was asked about the strongest part of his game, he didn't speak of his speed or power.

"Right now it's my discipline. My discipline on the base paths, the field, and at the plate," Thomas says. "Just knowing the game and everything there is to know about it."

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