The Answerbacks can add another hero to their postseason history.
The Diamondbacks had their backs against the wall against the Phillies on Friday, down 5-3 with Craig Kimbrel on the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning and a runner on first. Should Philadelphia win, the Phillies would take a 3-1 NLCS advantage, send Zack Wheeler to the mound for Game 5 in Arizona in a potential clinching game and then still have two more chances to win just one game back at Citizens Bank Park.
Arizona manager Torey Lovullo brought Alek Thomas off the bench to bat for Emmanuel Rivera. Thomas, who started the first two games of the series, had gone 0-for-6 to start the NLCS.
On a full count, Thomas pulled a fastball away to the right-center field gap for a pool-bound home run, tying the game at five. Three batters later, Gabriel Moreno doubled to left-center to put Arizona on top 6-5, a score by which they would win to even the series.
“That play is definitely something you see in your dreams, and for it to come in real life and for it to happen to me is just awesome,” Thomas said. “I’m so grateful to have that moment. It’s just unreal. Crazy, honestly, I haven’t really processed it yet, but it was awesome.”
MORE: Phillies-Diamondbacks NLCS schedule
This is the second time in as many games Thomas as played a role in helping tie up the game. On Thursday, he was brought out in the bottom of the seventh as a pinch runner for Tommy Pham, who singled to lead off the frame. Lourdes Gurriel sent a ground ball down the left field line, and Thomas put his wheels to the test, racing around all the way from first to score the game-tying run.
“A couple of really big asks for him, right. He didn’t start the past couple of days because I was matching up and trying to maximize some situations offensively. But he stayed ready and that to me speaks volumes about a young player and his readiness when you don’t take it personal that you’re not playing, you wait for your opportunity and then you seize that opportunity, and that’s what excites me the most,” manager Torey Lovullo said after the game.
“It’s hard to stay locked in over the course of a nine-inning game, but when you’re coming off the bench it’s a little bit more challenging. I think he just stepped on the gas pedal at the right time and had a great moment for himself and this organization.”
The Diamondbacks have a number of star players on this surprising team, including the front-runner for the NL Rookie of the Year in Corbin Carroll, All-Star Ketel Marte and Cy Young contender Zac Gallen, which means Thomas has likely flown under the radar for some. Here’s what you need to know about the Diamondbacks’ latest postseason hero.
Who is Alek Thomas?
Thomas is a 23-year-old outfielder for the Diamondbacks, who is in his second full season in the majors. Thomas was Arizona’s starting center fielder in 104 games this season.
But this season hasn’t exactly been the easiest campaign for Thomas. On May 17, he was sent down to Triple-A after he had mustered just a .195/.252/.357 slash line over his first 39 games of the season. The hope was that the former top prospect would be able to get his bat back into the shape many expected when he came into the year.
“It is a game of adjustments, and he’s made some quality adjustments. And I think as you are learning about yourself, there are some hard lessons to be learned and they’re frustrating and he took it in stride by going down and improving and getting the job done to come back up here to have good moments,” Lovullo said after the game. “He’s a tremendous talent, but those adjustments, you can see they’re coming out the other end. I know sending him down earlier in the year was not easy for any of us, especially him, but he took it in stride and made good things happen on back of that.”
Thomas crushed pitching in Triple-A Reno on his assignment to the minors. He posted an eye-popping .348/.409/.518 slash line with three homers and a pair of steals in 26 games. He struck out only 20 times compared to 19 walks.
He was recalled from Triple-A on June 19, and showed general improvement, posting a .245/.282/.395 slash line with seven home runs and six steals in the 86 games since he was brought back up. He still was a bit streaky with an impressive .290/.323/.477 line between June 19 and Aug. 25, only to slash .179/.221/.274 the rest of the season.
“I was sent back down and definitely had to work on some things and change some things and then I came back up and seemed to work out, and then kind of slipped into that funk again,” Thomas said. “But none of that matters at the end of the day. You still gotta show up to work and put your best foot work.”
Alek Thomas MLB draft
Back in 2018, the Diamondbacks selected Thomas 63rd overall out of Mount Carmel High in Chicago. Thomas was ranked as the No. 41 prospect in the class, according to MLB Pipeline, with the scouting site praising his bat, speed and fielding ability, while noting the potential for some increased power down the line.
Each year Thomas was in the minors, he rose up the ranks. In 2019, MLB Pipeline had him as the No. 7 Diamondbacks prospect. In 2020, he was the team’s second overall prospect and the 49th ranked player in baseball. In 2021, he had dropped slightly to No. 81 overall but was still second among the team’s prospects.
He wound up making his MLB debut on May 8, 2022, and never looked back, securing the starting center field spot almost as soon as he was promoted to the majors.
Alek Thomas dad
Baseball happens to be a family business for Thomas. Thomas, a Chicago native, is the son of Allen Thomas, who was the long-time director of strength and conditioning for the White Sox.
According to Nevada Sportsnet, Thomas spent time as a 5-year-old around the White Sox in 2005 when the team went on to win the World Series against the Astros.
“When I got that chance to hang out with him, it meant the world to me,” Thomas said, per Nevada Sportsnet. “I’d say 2005 was a big, big deal. I don’t remember too much of that. Juan Uribe almost sprayed me with champagne, but I was only 5 years old so he didn’t. That was cool. Just being out there in the outfield and being with some of the great players. Todd Frazier. Ken Griffey Jr. was there at one point. Jim Thome. Jermaine Dye. A lot of guys I can name just being out there with them.”
Allen Thomas had spent 17 years working with the White Sox before he was ultimately let go by the team after the 2021 season, according to Audacy.
Alek Thomas stats
Thomas hit just nine home runs during the 2023 regular season. He is already up to three during the playoffs. Thomas previously launched home runs against the Brewers in the second game of the wild-card series and another in the first game of the NLDS. His home run on Friday makes it three home runs of his five total hits this postseason.
Here’s a look at how he has done in his two regular seasons of MLB action: