Thomas got better as season wore on, now needs consistency


Age on opening day 2023: 27

How acquired: Traded from Cardinals for Jon Lester, July 2021

MLB service time: 3 years, 14 days

2022 salary: $723,600

Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2026

2022 stats: 146 G, 548 PA, 498 AB, 62 R, 120 H, 26 2B, 2 3B, 17 HR, 52 RBI, 8 SB, 4 CS, 41 BB, 132 SO, .241 AVG, .301 OBP, .404 SLG, .705 OPS, 103 OPS+, -1 DRS, 1.1 fWAR, 1.6 bWAR

Quotable: “I think he’s only scratching the surface. I don’t really think he knows yet who he can be. We know the power numbers are there. We know he can play all three outfield positions, and do really well out there. Now it’s just a matter of him continuing to get better, continue to learn how to really get on base for us. Every year, he’s showing improvement. Since we’ve got him, his offensive numbers have been very impressive, and they’re going to get better.” – Davey Martinez

2022 analysis: After a surprisingly impressive, two-month showing following his acquisition from the Cardinals in 2021, Lane Thomas entered this season hoping to prove he could sustain that kind of production. He didn’t get there, but he certainly got closer to that form as the year progressed.

Thomas’ numbers through the end of May were abysmal: a .195 batting average, .256 on-base percentage, .581 OPS and only nine extra-base hits in 137 plate appearances. Then he started to get hot in June and managed to keep that going for the better part of 3 1/2 months. Over an 88-game stretch that ended Sept. 19, he hit .275 with a .329 on-base percentage, .791 OPS and 33 extra-base hits in 347 plate appearances.

Thomas did cool off significantly down the stretch, though. Over his final 15 games, he hit a paltry .146 with a .250 on-base percentage, .486 OPS and only three extra-base hits in 64 plate appearances.

In the field, he played all three outfield positions, starting in left field when Victor Robles was also in the lineup, starting in center field when Robles was on the bench and then finishing out the season in right field, where he seemed to look the most comfortable. Thomas’ above-average arm, in particular, became more of a weapon in September as he took over a spot long held by Juan Soto.

2023 outlook: There’s only one outfielder who finished the season in D.C. that appears to be assured of a starting job next spring: Thomas. That doesn’t mean his stranglehold on that spot is air-tight, though. He has plenty of work to do to prove he really is a part of the long-term plan.

Thomas has to cut down on his streakiness. When he’s good, he’s really good. When he’s not, he’s really not. Better consistency hitting the fastball – he batted only .248 off that pitch this season – would go a long way. So would using the entire field like he did so well late in 2021: After hitting the ball up the middle 41.5 percent of the time the previous season, he did it only 34.8 percent of the time this season.

And as is so often important for potential leadoff hitters, Thomas has to be willing to take more walks. He was very good at that in 2021, with a 14 percent walk rate. He cut that rate nearly in half this year, down to 7.5 percent.

Nothing’s set in stone yet about Thomas’ position in the outfield. He would become the de facto center fielder if the Nationals decide not to stick with the enigmatic Robles, but Martinez seemed to suggest at season’s end Robles remains part of the organization’s 2023 plans. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Thomas, who really did look best in right field in September and could wind up there again next spring.

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