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 were 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/.328/.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.
Clete broke out in 2007, putting together a fine season in his first exposure to the Double-A Eastern League. With a .280/.353/.405 line, Clete demonstrated a full compliment of skills, and impressed coaches throughout the circuit. Clete's name was littered all over Eastern League leader boards, ranking second in games played (137), second in at-bats (528), first in runs (97), tied for fourth in hits (148), tied for fifth in triples (6), and tied for ninth in strikeouts with 110. Thomas' season was solid across the board and earned him a trip to big league camp this spring.
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 his gritty style plays well with managers and coaches. His base running instincts still require work, as he was only successful in 62% of his attempts in 2007. In the outfield, Clete's speed allows him to get to many balls despite suspect jumps. He has made great strides in the outfield over the last two years, but there are still areas that could improve to make him a more complete defender. He has an exceptional arm, rating as the best in the Eastern League, having touched 92 when throwing from the outfield.
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. He makes routine hard contact and with his speed has the ability to generate more doubles than his raw power suggests. His offensive game is very aggressive, and he has a strong concept of the game thanks to years of hard work on the field.
With his defense making strides in center, Clete seems like he could be able to handle the position long term. Unfortunately for him, Curtis Granderson resides at the same slot in Detroit. His speed, arm strength, and offensive profile could work well in the cavernous areas of left field at Comerica Park, and with some minimal strides in pitch recognition, Thomas could become a legitimate Major League outfielder.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% AA
Thomas has demonstrated exceptional durability throughout his collegiate and professional careers, and there is little to suggest that trend will change any time soon. With his aggressive style, there will always be quiet worries about his ability to remain healthy, but with nothing in his history, its tough to argue that he should make any alterations to his playing style.
Clete enters big league camp with an opportunity to make a very strong impression on the organizational brass. With any luck, the impressions he leaves this spring could not only lead to an assignment at Triple-A Toledo, but also a Major League debut at some point during the 2008 season. Clete could easily return to Double-A Erie this season, where he would be expected to put together another impressive season.
Clete's raw tools have never been a question, and now his performance is beginning to catch up with those tools. Former Erie Manager Matt Walbeck believed Clete could help a Major League team last fall, and he may well get his shot to help the Tigers this season. At only 24-years old, Clete's clock is not yet ticking very loudly and another season in the minors would not be a setback for him. Look for him to be pushing strongly for a full-time slot in Detroit by the start of the 2009 season.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.