Recent Youngstown State University alumnus Justin Thomas has found a new home with the Everett AquaSox.
Just weeks after being drafted in the fourth round by the Seattle Mariners (113th overall) the 21-year-old is getting his first taste of professional baseball with the Class-A affiliate.
Despite coming off his best collegiate season in which he posted career highs in strikeouts (88) and ERA (3.42), Thomas feels lucky to be where he sits.
"It was nice to be drafted so high," said Thomas. "Especially by a team like the Mariners. I wasn't expecting it."
The Oregon, Ohio native has put together quite a résumé in his brief career. Thomas lettered all four years at Clay High School, where he stood out not only for his pitching but also for his work at the plate.
In the course of his four years at Clay, Thomas tied the school record for home runs in a season and by the time his tenure was up, he had set the record for home runs total.
At Youngstown State, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound southpaw found himself being put to work more than ever before, pitching a total of 253.1 innings in his three seasons of play. This year, Thomas fanned a career-high 15 hitters in a 5-1 victory against Cleveland State.
His efforts on the year earned him a spot on the First-Team All Horizon League as well as bestowing him with the auspicious title of Horizon League Pitcher of the Year.
Pitching for the AquaSox this summer, Thomas will have to adjust to a different style of play. His initial performance, however, suggests that the transition will not be entirely difficult. Thomas pitched one scoreless inning in Everett's season-opener against the Boise Hawks on Tuesday, allowing just one baserunner.
The AquaSox went on to lose the game, but the performance spoke for itself and offered Thomas some insight as to the differences between collegiate and minor league play.
"The main [difference] between playing in college and the minor leagues is the metal bat factor," said Thomas. "In college, you kind of have to trick batters more because they're hitting against you with metal bats."
Thomas's stint in Everett will also mark the first time in his career that he has competed for a team outside of Ohio, but the change isn't fazing him.
"There were some teams closer to home that were looking at me," said Thomas. "But I heard from my agent that the Mariners treat their players really well and I'm happy to be part of the organization. It's nice to be able to see a different part of the country and especially here in the Northwest. It's beautiful here."
As he looks to gain more experience in Everett and work his way up through Seattle's farm system, Thomas finds inspiration from the major league players who have preceded him.
He has been compared by scouts to Florida Marlins lefty Al Leiter, but Thomas prefers to look up to another big-league hurler - namely New York Mets ace, Pedro Martinez.
"[He] isn't your average pitcher," said Thomas. "He doesn't have a large build or anything like that, but he still has that ability to intimidate hitters."
No doubt the Mariners would be thrilled to have Thomas follow in the footsteps of the three-time Cy Young Award winner. But for now, Thomas is content to hone his skills and work towards the next level of play.
"I'm just looking to have a good season," said Thomas, "and work my way into the rotation and hopefully make my way up to the next level for next year."
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