Though he was the Mariners' top pitching prospect in this June's draft, his name was more or less unknown to the general public. And while that may still be the case outside of the Everett faithful, Thomas has taken the first steps towards boasting a more recognizable moniker.
Thomas started the season much as he had ended his career at Youngstown State as a member of the starting rotation. He showed potential, but a few rough starts marred by first-year mistakes, as well as a tired arm from the college season, earned him a ticket to the Sox bullpen later in the season.
Thomas started six games, but would find himself appearing in 16 by the end of the year, thanks to his newfound status among the relief corps. He posted a 3-3 record on the year with a solid 3.96 ERA. His 44:18 K-to-walk ratio was among the best on the team and a steady progression over the course of the year will doubtlessly ensure his remaining status as one of the M's hot-list pitching prospects.
Recently, Thomas took a moment out of his busy pitching schedule to talk to InsideThePark.com about the 2005 season, moving to the bullpen, and what the future holds for one of Seattle's youngest recruits.
InsideThePark.com: How do you feel about your performance this year?
Justin Thomas: I came up a bit short of my own expectations. I was expecting to have a little better year starting. I did a pretty good job coming out of the bullpen, which was a change to me because I haven't come out of the bullpen since my freshman year of college--I came out of the bullpen a little bit and in the summer following that—but ever since then, I've been a starter. My transition to the bullpen went pretty good and I'm pretty happy with my throwing out of the bullpen, but as a starter, I wanted to have a little better go at it.
ITP: What were your difficulties as a starter?
JT: I had a couple games where I had some trouble walking people and then I gave up some key hits in key situations—a couple two-out hits with runners in scoring position that didn't help me that much—and in the games that I pitched I didn't get much run support, but that happens sometimes. I just think I needed to throw a little better and have a little better command of my fastball and I think I would have done a little better as a starter.
ITP: Is that a position you'd like to work your way back to, or are you comfortable coming out of the bullpen?
JT: I'll pitch anywhere they want me to pitch. I'd love to be a starter, but if they need me to work out of the bullpen, that's fine with me as well.
ITP: Do you feel you fulfilled the expectations of the club and the fans as the top pitching prospect in the 2005 draft?
JT: Personally, I felt like I could have had a little better of a season, but for my first professional season, coming off a pretty good college season where I threw a lot of innings, I didn't have any arm trouble. I did a pretty good job; I'd say I had an average season. I'm not really sure what my expectations were, coming from outside sources, but personally I thought I had a pretty decent season.
ITP: What was your biggest challenge this year as a pitcher?
JT: I would say learning to pitch with my other pitches, other than just my fastball. In college, I didn't come out of a very strong league like a Big-12 or Big Ten or Pac-10 league, I came out of a mid-major league where I could get by throwing a lot of fastballs and I needed to learn how to pitch with my other pitches—my changeup and my slider—a lot more at this level than I had to in college.
ITP: What's your personal highlight of the year?
JT: My personal highlight would have to be my first professional win. I threw, I think, five innings of scoreless baseball against Boise on the road and that was my first professional win, so I was pretty happy about that.
ITP: Do you have a lowlight for the year?
JT: It would probably be the last time that I pitched against Vancouver. I came into a tight situation and I blew the lead and we ended up getting beat in that game. I came in during the seventh inning and we ended up losing that game 5-3.
ITP: If you could relive/replay the 2005 season, would you do anything differently?
JT: I don't think so. I feel that I worked pretty hard this season and I did the best that I could do personally. I think that if I had to do it again, I would just do it the same.
ITP: What are your goals heading into next year?
JT: My goals for next year are hopefully to move up in the ranks, hopefully maybe play at Wisconsin, which is a little closer to home, or maybe skip a step and go to High-A in San Bernardino, but hopefully just keep progressing towards the major leagues.
ITP: What have you learned this season that will help you the most next year?
JT: I learned a lot about how to throw pitches in the zone and how to start pitches in the zone that end out of the zone—how to make pitches look like they're strikes when they're not. [There are] a lot of different things I picked up from our pitching coach, Marcos [Garcia], such as changing hitter's eye levels, pitching to hitter's swings, and things of that nature—those are things that I learned that I didn't really know coming into this program.
Q & A with Southpaw Justin Thomas
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