Clete joined the Tigers organization following his selection in the 6th round of the 2005 amateur player draft, and signing for $150,000. Thomas was not only a highly thought of collegiate player, but was also considered a top prep prospect as well, but chose to attend Auburn University instead. Despite his top notch tools, scouts had been a bit disappointed in Clete's production during college. Thomas improved each season while playing right field for Auburn, but never matched the production his tools suggested he could reach. His best statistical season was his last in college, posting a .328/.423/.567 line in a very poor hitter's environment, and was named 2nd Team All-SEC. Following his sophomore campaign, Clete went east to play for the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod League, where he batted .241 with 8 steals in 33 games.
After turning pro, Thomas was assigned to Oneonta of the NYPL, where he continued to hit at a high level, posting a .386/.488/.529 line. After 18 games with the O-Tigers, Thomas was promoted to low-A West Michigan for the final 51 games of the season. Thomas cooled some with the ‘Caps and his power disappeared, but he still demonstrated plenty of potential at the top of the order, finishing with a .284/.356/.376 line over his time in the Midwest League. Having performed at a reasonable level in A-ball, the Tigers opted to send him on to Lakeland for the 2006 season, where he struggled to adjust; hitting just .257/.333/.367. Despite his struggles, Clete still ranked 8th in the FSL in hits (136) and tied for 5th in steals (34). He also tied for 7th in the league in caught stealing (13) and tied for 4th in the FSL in strikeouts with 127 in only 132 games.
Thomas isn't quite a true five-tool talent; he lacks the power necessary to be considered such a prospect. Thomas' speed is his best tool, and he uses it aggressively both on the bases and in the field. He likes to take extra bases and force defenses to react to him, and is an astute base runner as well. His speed helps him overcome suspect outfield instincts, but he's working diligently to become a better overall defender. If he can improve his reactions enough to remain in centerfield, his offense and arm will play much better there than on a corner.
At the plate, Clete stays back on balls well, hitting them deep in the zone and allowing him to completely analyze each pitch. While he allows himself ample time to recognize pitches, he is still fooled easily, particularly by high-end fastballs and good breaking balls. Thomas has below-average power and could stand to get stronger, allowing him to drive the ball to the gaps with regularity. As it stands now, he's more of a "punch ‘n judy" hitter, which is unlikely to sustain success at higher levels.
If his defense doesn't come along, he'll be forced back to an outfield corner (where he played at Auburn), and his prospect stock will take a significant hit. He's got the tools to be an outstanding top of the order threat, but he must make some significant strides as he faces stiffer competition. Clete projects more as a fourth outfielder than a legitimate everyday player.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% A+
Thomas has demonstrated exceptional durability throughout his collegiate and professional careers, and there is little to suggest that trend will change any time soon.
Even with a less than stellar season at Lakeland sitting in his rearview mirror, Clete will move on to man center at Jerry Uht park in Erie. Clete's stay in center could be short-lived as it is expected that Cameron Maybin will move on to Double-A after a brief stint at Lakeland to start the season.
Clete will need to put together an impressive season to keep his prospect star shining. He will either need to generate more power (legitimate power, not park-induced power) or get on base at very high rates, to make himself a valuable offensive player. I expect Thomas to struggle during the first months of the '07 season, with some slight improvements at the calendar moves towards late summer. With young players like Curtis Granderson, Brent Clevlen, and Cameron Maybin ahead of him on the organizational depth chart, he'll need to pull off something spectacular to get a true shot in Detroit.
Mark Anderson covers the Tigers' minor league system and all of minor league baseball for TigsTown.com. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.