The St. Louis Cardinals have sent Harrison Bader to the IL and called up a player I had fall in my Others of Note section of the Cardinals prospect list this preseason, Lane Thomas is now with the big league club. He was drafted in 2014 out of a Tennessee high school by the Toronto Blue Jays, who sent him over to the Cardinals for some international bonus money, clearly not highly thought of at the time of the deal. He broke out in 2018 with 27 home runs despite only having 18 in his previous four pro seasons. He has seen time in the infield early in his career but has not taken the field in the dirt since he put in ten games at second base at low A Lansing in 2016.
His defense in the outfield is a bit fringy, as he will never be a plus defender, but he has great versatility as he has the arm to play right and enough athleticism to play center at an average level at his best. He also possesses above average speed that does allow him to cover plenty of ground in the outfield, making up for his average to below reads and jumps. His speed does make him a threat to steal bags, as he has been successful in two thirds of his attempts.
At the plate, there is a medium leg kick but the bat path is quick and direct to the zone. His best hit for average season outside of the rookie level is just .264 but the swing itself should allow for a better average. His pitch recognition is his biggest issue as the plane and bat speed should allow him to be at least an average hitter but is widely graded out below average.
There is raw power in the bat coming in large part from that quick bat and the loft he manages to create with the direct path. Time will tell whether his power is more like his previous season high of 8 or last season’s 27, but I anticipate him settling in as a guy who could hit 15-20 regularly.
Overall, I don’t consider Thomas a quality everyday player, although he could be a very high level fourth outfielder. He can play all three outfield positions and has experience at third and second in the past which allows that to be a possibility in a pinch. He can run well enough to be a pinch runner, hit well enough to be a pinch hitter (both important in the NL) and can hold down a starting job if the typical starter is out injured and likely play just above replacement level.