43. Ka’ai Tom – Outfielder
Born: 05/24/1994 – Height: 5’9” – Weight: 185 – Bats: Left – Throws: Right
Facts & Info: Tom was selected by the Indians in the 5th round of the 2015 Draft out of the University of Kentucky and signed for $250,000. He originally went to Fort Scott Community College for his freshman season before transferring to Kentucky for his sophomore and junior seasons. He is part of a long line of baseball players in his family as his grandfather (Oregon), father (Washington State) and brothers Jordan (Oregon State) and Kainoa (Hartnel Junior College) all played college ball – though Ka’ai is the first to play professionally.
Offense: Tom has a very polished bat as he has very advanced hitting mechanics and has a low maintenance swing that does not require many adjustments. He has a short, compact swing with a very advanced approach at the plate where he hits the ball to all fields, controls the strike zone well and shows some very good bat-to-ball ability. He puts up professional, quality at bats and understands who he is as a hitter and just sees the ball very well, is selective and consistently puts the ball in play. He shows a natural ability to get himself to the spot he wants to depending on how he thinks the pitcher is going to attack him, which makes his approach very good and makes him very difficult for pitchers to know how to handle him and is just a tough out. He can change from one at bat to the next and one pitch to the next on what he is trying to do with the ball, and he has the ability to do it because his balance, swing path and swing mechanics are so good. Because of that good balance he is able to keep his head still and has minimal effort with his upper body which allows him to repeat his swing well and get to many different pitches and locations. He is a line drive hitter who is gap-to-gap with average power to all fields. He packs some punch in his small, compact frame thanks to some good strength in his lower half and some strong, quick hands that allow him to be quick to the ball and really get some nice back leg and hip action to turn on some balls well.
Defense: Tom shows an ability to handle all three outfield positions, though profiles mostly as a corner outfielder. He has some good athleticism and is improving as a defender, but he does not have the speed and range to handle center field and his average arm is not a good fit in right field, so he mostly projects as a versatile left fielder. The defense is not a strength to his game, but he has alleviated some concerns coming out of the draft where he should at least be an average defender. He also has some experience at second base and is a position the Indians experimented with him some in Instructional League in 2015, but for now he is an outfielder only.
Speed & Intangibles: Tom is a good baserunner who has slightly above average speed and shows the ability to steal a few bases and take an extra base. He is very competitive and is your typical gamer who is going to try and out hustle and out play his opponent. He is one of those players who will not wow you when you see him one time, but is someone who as you watch over time will grow on you and you will learn to appreciate all of the little things he does well and how he plays the game hard. He’s a low maintenance player who works hard, has a tough mindset and is just always ready to compete and make adjustments as needed.
Focus: First and foremost, Tom has to prove he is healthy. After finishing his pro debut in 2015 with so much promise after a strong year with Short-A Mahoning Valley, things immediately got off to a rough start in spring training last year when he came down with a shoulder injury. The injury forced him to open the season in extended spring training so he could rehab it before going out into a live real game setting. After a few weeks he was cleared to return to action and joined Low-A Lake County on April 26th and things were looking great as he hit right from the start before having to leave the game on June 2nd after re-aggravating his shoulder while sliding back into first base. He missed the rest of the season as he rehabbed it and consulted doctors for opinions on the bothersome shoulder. As long as he comes back healthy, the Indians do not see him needing many mechanical adjustments with his swing and believe he will pick things up as if he didn’t miss any time. If the shoulder checks out and he gets back into a normal routine, the Indians plan to continue to work on his mental approach to his at bats to remain more even keeled and to not get too high on the successes and too low on the failures. They want him to trust his abilities and stick with his process which they believe will help him be more consistent in his at bats and have a more sound mental approach. His defense holds him back some as he doesn’t have the big bat which profiles well in left field and there is not a lot of upside to his defense.
Future: Tom is a well-rounded offensive oriented prospect for the Indians who was a rather known offensive commodity coming out of the draft that has lived up to that billing so far. The Indians believe the bat will play in the upper levels and perhaps the big leagues, but the big question is where he fits defensively and also if the shoulder issue is something which will limit him moving forward. The Indians hope that he can return this season completely healthy and play a full season without any restrictions, but that is an unknown that won’t be answered until he gets back on the field and they can more firmly assess where he is at in his recovery. He has been a bright spot from the 2015 Draft with a good set of tools and has a swing the Indians really like, so the hope is this shoulder issue is not something which limits him going forward or is a recurring issue for him. Chances are the Indians take a big picture view of things with him and will be conservative with his workload this spring in order to ensure health over the long term, so he may start the season in extended spring training. Whenever he does get the all clear to play, be it at the start of the season or a few months in, he should join High-A Lynchburg.
Ranking History: #33 (2016)