After full big league season, Thomas comfortable in versatility

The Winter Meetings are officially underway at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. On the first day, both Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez will speak to the media. Plenty of content is on the way.

They will be asked about the ownership situation, the current state of the roster, the rest of the offseason and players returning next year.

What about the players themselves? It would be nice to hear from some of them this offseason.

Lane Thomas, a key returning player who will be included in the Opening Day starting lineup in the outfield, was gracious enough to join the first edition of the “Nationals Hot Stove Show” on Friday to update his offseason and look ahead to the 2023 campaign.

“I kind of get back home and hang out with family and enjoy some Tennessee football for a few weeks,” Thomas said on MASN about his offseason. “And then it's kind of back to it. Just start moving around again. And we've got a good group down at the university that, you know, some young guys that just got drafted and even some guys like Mike Minor and some other guys who've been around for a while. So it's a good group. And it's fun to be back with these guys getting ready and getting prepared for another year.”

In an up-and-down season, Thomas took significant strides to show that he can be an everyday major leaguer. And the 27-year-old wants to continue making progress heading into next season.

“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “I think you set goals for yourself. And moving forward, I think it's just kind of a lot of baby steps. I just want to try to get a little bit better than last year and just keep building on that. I think, me personally, I try not to make like these giant strides, because I know how hard that is and how hard the game is. So yeah, I think there are some things that I need to work on. And I think I can build off last year's season. So I'm excited to get back and be around the guys again, and get back into more and more there.”

This was Thomas’ first full season with the Nationals since a trade with the Cardinals at the 2021 deadline brought him to D.C. and sent veteran left-hander Jon Lester to St. Louis. He also played the most games in a single season of his career this year, appearing in 146 during his first full major league season. His previous high was 132 between Double-A and Triple-A on the Cardinals farm in 2018.

How did he handle the wear and tear of a full big league season?

“I think that's a battle,” Thomas said. “I mean, at least for the first at least month of everyday games, I feel like you come to the minor leagues, and you're used to it, because you play every day in the minor leagues. And then dealing with '19 and the COVID year and then 2021, it's been good just to get back in that form of playing every day, or at least in the mindset of playing every day. So I think it's good, I feel good about it. And I'll be ready to do it showing up in February.”

Thomas’ overall numbers don’t immediately catch your eyes when reading them. He slashed just .241/.301/.404 with a .705 OPS, 17 homers and 52 RBIs. He was prone to being a streaky player throughout the season, for better or worse. He would go through stretches of being one of the more successful hitters in the Nats lineup, only to follow it up with a similar stretch in a slump.

But he was good enough to be named the 2022 Nationals Player of the Year by the local media at the end of the season, thanks in large part to his versatility.

Thomas ended up hitting in every position in the lineup at least once this season. While mostly hitting leadoff (55 games), he proved that he’s capable of sliding into whatever spot in the order Martinez saw fit.

He also played significant time in all three outfield spots (58 games in left field, 52 in center and 39 in right), showing his defensive versatility as well.

Even though being able to hit in any spot in the order and play three different positions helped Thomas see a lot of action this year, does he think it would be more helpful for him to be solidified in one spot on a more consistent basis?

“I think it would be not in my favor to complain about that kind of stuff,” he said. “I feel like me coming up with the Cardinals, and even when I got here, it's like I didn't want to be the guy that's like, 'No, I don't want to.’ I just feel like you can't do that. You just gotta be flexible and understand that there are other guys that do things as well or better than you. So in my mind, I just want to do what they need me to do and try to have success in all those roles. So that's what I tried to do last year, and I think it's cool. I think it just gives you different positions to play in a different role. If you're just this one, you better be really good at that one thing if they're gonna keep you around. I feel like that it's good for me that I can do a lot of things.”

Although his versatility has definitely been a good thing for him and the Nationals, Thomas saw himself more consistently in right field near the end of the season after Juan Soto was traded to the Padres. With Nelson Cruz battling ailments and Luke Voit struggling in the field at first base, Thomas almost permanently slid over to right field while Joey Meneses moved to first and Voit became the full-time designated hitter.

In a smaller sample size, Thomas played some of his best defense in right field, where his strong arm proved to be his biggest asset. He also seemed more comfortable playing balls on the fly and off the wall. He said more consistent reps in right field helped him get more acclimated to playing the position.

“I feel good,” Thomas said of playing right field. “I think the hard part is bouncing around to all three outfield positions within the week. But I feel like last year, when I was playing left field, I was playing left field for a few weeks. And then when I would play center, I was playing center field for 10 days. And then when I was playing right, it was, I was in right field for a month. So it's a lot easier that way, which, thanks to Davey, it wasn't like I was bouncing around to all three each day. I think that makes it a little harder because you get used to certain, you know, the way the ball comes off the bat in each one of those from a lefty or righty. So luckily, I got to do it back-to-back days most of the time.”

Since undertaking this rebuild two summers ago, the Nationals have made a point of signing versatile players who can play multiple positions. Thomas was one of the first players they acquired to fill such a role.

Some players find the most success building a routine at a single position and spot in the batting order. But Thomas has become more comfortable in his versatility and filling a variety of roles, which should help him and the Nationals in the coming years.

You can watch Thomas’ interview in its entirety here. Be sure to catch the “Nationals Hot Stove Show” throughout the offseason every Friday at 9:30 p.m. on MASN.

Winter Meetings Day 1: Turner to Phils, Verlander ...
Ready to hear from Rizzo and Martinez

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to