On the surface, Clete Thomas seems to be a rather uninspiring baseball player. He has tools that are more than useful, such as good speed and a knack for good defense.
However his career numbers in the Minor Leagues, as well as the tools that emerged during his time at the NCAA level with Auburn University, seem to suggest that his peak is to be a fourth outfielder in the Major Leagues.
In spite of all of this, he was called up from Triple A-Toledo on May 5th to replace outfielder, Carlos Guillen, who was placed on the DL at thetime, and has been a more than useful contributor to the Detroit Tigers lineup.
Quite incredibly, his production is coming out of a most unusual spot in the lineup for him: the third spot, right in front of Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera. In his first game with the big club, he went 3-for-4, including a double and a home run against the Minnesota Twins, all out of the third spot in Jim Leyland's lineup.
One wonders what the explanation for the continuation of last year's success is for Clete Thomas. When looking at the numbers that he's put up at all levels of baseball, one will see a patient hitter who makes, at best, decent contact. Lets look at his OBP numbers since 2006, along with plate appearances:
· 2006 (High—A Lakeland): .332 (529 PAs)
· 2007 (AA—Erie): .359 (528 PAs)
· 2008 (ML—Detroit): .366 (116 PAs)
· 2008 (AAA—Toledo): .333 (291 PAs)
· 2009 (AAA—Toledo): .349 (89 PAs)
Along with these numbers, between all of his stops between Lakeland and Detroit, he's averaged an OPS of around .740, which is a not exactly an impressive figure for a batter that the Detroit Tigers are using in the third spot in their lineup.
Clearly, he's getting on base at more than a reasonable clip. But this doesn't explain the sudden success that he's had during his coffee stops in Detroit the past couple of years.
Overall, Clete Thomas is the tough, gritty player that most red-blooded baseball fans want to succeed at the Major League level.
In Detroit, we call it the "Brandon Inge" type. However, it is quite perplexing that the Tigers organization not only passed up the opportunity to replace Carlos Guillen's spot in the lineup with someone who has more pop, such as outfielders Brent Clevlen or Wilkin Ramirez.
It appears the Tigers were thinking outside of the box when calling up Thomas, perhaps hoping he could build upon his cup of coffee with the big club last year. While this is admirable, it would behoove the Tigers organization to keep a close eye on Thomas.
He very well may be riding a wave of success at the Major League level fueled by the fact that pitchers are unfamiliar with him, and one has to believe that he will come back down to earth as expected.