Read what my student Greg considers the biggest surprise in the MLB for 2017 is so far.
Every year there are storylines between teams and players, and surprises that come out of the league. The biggest surprise so far in 2017 has been one in the name of Eric Thames. Thames is a 30-year-old left-handed hitter who is currently doing wonders for the Milwaukee Brewers. Thames burst onto the MLB scene in 2011 with the Toronto Blue Jays and was an average hitter at best. Thames played the following year with the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners. His average over this time was a dismal .250 and his OBP was only .296. The following year Thames was not given another shot at the MLB. In 2013 Thames spent time between AAA and Rookie ball, which is not where you want to end up. Things were looking down for Thames and it seemed as if his MLB career would be over. What happened next would surprise almost everyone. Thames headed to the KBO (Korean Baseball League) to try to revive his playing career. The KBO is not a very well-known league, a step down from the well-known NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan), so the hitter’s success there is taken with an asterisk next to it.
What Thames did was unbelievable. He turned himself into one of the most feared hitters in the KBO and became a world-class slugger. Over the next three years, from 2014-16, he went on to have gaudy numbers of a .349 BA, .451 OBP, and a .721 SLG. In 3 years he accumulated 124 Home Runs and 382 RBIs, averaging 41.3 Home Runs a year and 127 RBIs. After these unbelievable numbers an MLB team would have to give him at least a tryout, correct?
That is exactly what happened. On November 29, 2016 Eric Thames would get his shot again at the MLB when the Milwaukee Brewers signed him to a 3 year $16 million dollar guaranteed contract. For a player who had only played in a lower level international league over the past three years, this was a big gamble for the Brewers. The Brewers were very intrigued to see how this would work out.
Fast forwarding to the start of the 2017 season Thames arrives at Spring Training hoping to make the Brewers big league club. People were skeptical of Thames numbers because of the KBO being a low level league, but the Brewers gave him a shot regardless. During the spring Thames hit a respectable .263 with only 1 Home Run. He attributed a very solid .368 OBP over 57 At Bats. This was good for the Brewers and it looked like their gamble signing might work.
Through the first 7 games of the MLB season Thames was struggling power wise, hitting only one Home Run, but still had a respectable .318 BA. Since then, Thames is absolutely demolishing MLB pitching hitting .348 with 10 Home Runs and 17 RBIs. Thames has become a hitting machine that cannot be stopped. In games versus the Cincinnati Reds, Thames hit an astounding 8 Home Runs.
Now, when any player comes out of the blue and starts hitting unbelievably, the thought of “Is he taking steroids?” becomes a question. The Chicago Cubs “jokingly” suggested that maybe he is on steroids and then the entire thing got blown up. Thames was quick to shut it down saying that in Korea the drug policy is run by the IOC, which is even more strict than the MLB. Thames has been drug tested numerous times since the start of the season, and has come up clean every time.
In Conclusion, it is truly great to see a hitter who was down and out, who thought their playing career might be coming to a close, getting a shot with a big league club and proving his worth. The story of Eric Thames right now is for every kid who just got cut by his travel team. Or every kid sent down to a lower step of the minors then they thought they should have. With hard work and determination, anyone can make it back. Eric Thames is proving that right now, and he is living the dream.
– by Greg Kassar