Thomas was good all around, and Nats believe he can be even better


Age on Opening Day 2024: 28

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

MLB service time: 4 years, 14 days

2023 salary: $2.2 million

Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2026

2023 stats: 156 G, 682 PA, 628 AB, 101 R, 168 H, 36 2B, 3 3B, 28 HR, 86 RBI, 20 SB, 5 CS, 36 BB, 176 SO, .268 AVG, .315 OBP, .468 SLG, .783 OPS, 114 OPS+, 1 DRS, 3.3 bWAR, 2.7 fWAR

Quotable: “We saw the potential, absolutely. But what he’s done, he’s been unbelievable. Not just because of the home runs, but because of his overall play. He’s getting better and better. I still don’t think he’s reached his full potential. I think there’s more there in the tank, and I think you’ll see it. But he’s developed this confidence. He really feels like he’s an everyday right fielder, and I saw that this year every time he stepped on the field.” – Davey Martinez

2023 analysis: Though he in many ways enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2022, establishing himself as an everyday player for the Nationals as currently constructed, Thomas entered 2023 still looking to establish himself as an everyday player for the Nationals in the future. By year’s end, he had moved himself as close as possible to that position without fully locking it down.

Thomas opened the season as the Nats’ leadoff hitter, and he thrived in that role to the tune of a .313/.362/.540 slash line. Making that even more impressive: He didn’t hit his first homer until May 1, then proceeded to hit 14 over the next two months. All of that made him a strong candidate for the first All-Star selection of his career, though he ultimately was passed over by Major League Baseball, which instead chose Josiah Gray to represent the team.

Through no fault of his own, Thomas was bumped out of the leadoff spot just before the All-Star break, with Martinez believing CJ Abrams was now ready for the job. Abrams also thrived in the role, justifying the move, but Thomas did see a significant drop-off in production after that. As the team’s No. 2 hitter throughout the second half, he slashed a mere .223/.274/.431.

Whether he was reaching base at a high clip or not, Thomas did continue to hit home runs. He finished his season with a flourish, his total of 28 the best by any Nationals player since Juan Soto hit 29 in 2021. He became only the fourth player in club history to join the 20-20 Club, following in the footsteps of Alfonso Soriano, Ian Desmond (three times) and Bryce Harper. And on top of that, Thomas added 18 outfield assists, second-most in the National League.

2024 outlook: The Nationals had the opportunity to sell high on Thomas at the trade deadline and chose not to. That decision, and subsequent comments by general manager Mike Rizzo, suggested the organization believes he will be an everyday player for them in the future, perhaps even when the team is ready to contend again.

To fully solidify that status, though, Thomas does still have some work ahead of him. He has now proven he can hit for power. He has now proven he can run the bases well. He has now proven he can not only throw runners out from his perch in right field, but he can also make the plays he needs to make out there after struggling in the past on fly balls hit to the wall.

Where can Thomas improve? First of all, he needs to find a level of consistency that hasn’t been there enough for him the last two years. To be sure, he was better at that this season, his slumps coming less frequently and not lasting as long as they did in 2022. Even so, when he goes south, he goes really south, which explains how he turned a solid .285 batting average and .334 on-base percentage on Sept. 9 into a less-impressive .264 batting average and .312 on-base percentage on Sept. 30.

Thomas can also be better at situational hitting. He finished with the fewest RBIs among all NL hitters with at least 67 extra-base hits. Nearly all of his damage came when he hit the ball to left or center fields (32-of-36 doubles, 27-of-28 homers, 78-of-86 RBIs). He doesn’t have to start driving the ball to the opposite field with regularity, but an occasional two-out single to right (a la Joey Meneses) would do wonders and lift Thomas into a higher category of offensive performer.

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