Getting to know M's 4th rounder, LHP Justin Thomas

After snagging power-hitting catcher Jeff Clement with their first-round selection, the Mariners set their sights on pitchers. And with their next pick, which didn't come until round four due to the free agent signings of Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre, the Mariners drafted 21-year-old left-hander Justin Thomas, a pitcher out of Youngstown State University with a knack for getting the strikeout.

Thomas, well built at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, was at home watching the MLB draft on the internet when his cable went out, forcing him to lose a connection. Projected to be drafted anywhere between rounds two and five, the anxious southpaw called his head coach, Mike Florak, and asked what to do.

"I told him to take a walk and keep his cell phone on him," said Florak.

Thomas didn't have to walk far before getting the call he was waiting for, as the Mariners phoned him at his parents house in Toledo, Ohio and told him he was the man they wanted. Afterwards, he called Florak back.

"He was very excited and looking forward to the opportunity," said Florak, who indicated that the junior would almost surely sign and turn pro despite having another year of eligibility.

With a fastball that sits between 89-and-92 and tops out at 94, a very good slider and an improving changeup, Thomas was one of the top pitchers in Youngstown State history in his three seasons at the school. Between 2003-2005, he racked up 250 strikeouts in 253.1 innings and as a junior was named as the Horizon League's Pitcher of the Year.

"He was our guy, our number one guy," said Florak, who indicated that Thomas could excel in both a starting or relief role as a pro. "He's highly competitive and could do either. He's never had any kind of arm problems.

"Justin's just been a great player and person for us. He and his family have meant a lot to the program, and it's a happy day for everyone involved."

Thomas became the third-highest drafted player in Youngstown State history, trailing only Brad Hennessey (1st round, 2001) and Chad Durkin (3rd round, 1991).

If he does indeed sign, as it is believed he will, Thomas will leave the Penguins' program with a career record of 19-13 and ERA of an 4.48. Of his 44 career appearances, 37 were starts, and he finished with nine complete games.

While known for his ability to get the strikeout, the southpaw didn't rely solely on the "K" throughout his college career. And the more experience had gained, the smarter he became on the mound.

"He learned how to let guys get themselves out," said Florak. He's become a little bit smarter about letting hitters get themselves out."

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