Prospect Retro: Marcus Thames
Marcus Thames was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 30th round of the 1996 draft. He signed the following May as a draft-and-follow pick, then was assigned to the Gulf Coast League, where he hit .344/.394/.579. . .obviously excellent performance. I didn't pay much attention to short-season guys back then, but nowadays I'd probably have given him a C+ or so. . .he had some tools but was a bit old for the level at age 20.
The Yankees skipped him past low-A ball in 1998 and sent him directly to advanced A in the Florida State League. He handled the jump well, hitting .284/.328/.409 with 11 homers and 13 steals in 122 games. His strike zone judgment was erratic, but he showed some pop and some speed. I wrote that he had "good growth potential" but needed to improve his plate discipline. Grade C.
Thames split 1999 between Tampa and Double-A Norwich, hitting .244/.332/.444 for the former but just .225/.316/.346 for the latter, as he was overmatched against the more advanced pitching. Again, plate discipline was the main thing holding him back. Grade C.
Double-A was Thames' destination full-time in 2000. He hit .241/.313/.407 with 15 homers and 30 doubles. Although his raw numbers weren't great, he boosted his walk rate and reduced his strikeouts. It didn't seem to actually help his production, but it was a hint that things might get better. Still a Grade C.
2001 was his breakout year: he hit .321/.410/.598 for Norwich, with 43 doubles and 31 homers. His walk rate really spiked, drawing 73 on the year, while his strikeout rate remained reasonable. I saw him in the Arizona Fall League and was VERY impressed. Although he was repeating Double-A, I felt confident enough to boost his grade all the way up to B+ in the 2002 book.
In retrospect, this looked like a major error after he hit just .207/.297/.378 in 107 games of Triple-A in 2002. He hit 13 homers, and his walk and strikeout marks didn't deteriorate much. I reduced his grade back to C, but noted that his underlying factors were still intriguing, and that "it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him get hot again in '03, especially if he gets a change of scenery."
That came after Thames was traded to Texas in June of 2003 for Ruben Sierra. He got into 30 games with the Rangers, hitting .205/.298/.274. . .obviously not very good. The Rangers saw enough and let him go as a free agent at the end of the year.
At this point, Thames was a 26-year-old outfielder who had struggled in Triple-A and hadn't done well in his first exposure to major league pitching. Looking to add some outfield depth, the Tigers signed him to a free agent contract and shipped him to Toledo. He had a great year, hitting .329/.410/.735...his best performance to date. A 61-game trial with the Tigers went well (.255/.326/.509). He blasted the ball again in Triple-A in '05 (.340/.427/.679) but struggled in the majors. But this year he emerged as another source of power for Detroit, hitting .256/.333/.549 with 26 homers in 348 at-bats.
In his major league career, Thames has now hit .241 but with a .490 SLG, hitting 45 homers and 37 doubles in 706 at-bats. This is in line with what you'd expect given his Double-A and Triple-A track record. It usually takes him some time to adjust to a new level of competition, but once he gets comfortable, he can help you.
Like Craig Monroe, Thames was a guy who didn't get a lot of respect as a prospect by most people, but who didn't give up, and took advantage of the opportunity he received in Detroit.