Baseball Draft: Catawba’s Thomas taken by A’s in 14th round
By Mike London
Shortly after David Thomas was drafted in the 14th round by the Oakland Athletics on Friday, his phone rang.
“Well, David, you’ve made it,” a cheerful friend said.
“Nope,” replied Thomas. “Now the real work begins.”
Very soon, Thomas will have the dream job he’s always wanted ó professional baseball player ó but he understands he has his work cut out.
He’s a college graduate, a three-time All-American, arguably the greatest player in Catawba history and owner of countless records. But now he’s back to square one. He’s 0-for-0 with no homers and no RBIs as a pro.
Thomas realizes 423 players were chosen ahead of him in the draft, and he has to prove himself all over again to a doubting world full of skeptics.
“It’s a business now, and it’s all up to me,” Thomas said. “I’ve got a job to do. I’m just thankful that job is still baseball.”
Thomas, who played high school ball at Ledford, has good speed, but not fantastic speed. He has a good arm, but not a great arm. He has good size, but not great size.
He is a draft pick because he is superb at all the little things. He gets a great jump on the ball in the outfield, and he’s a terrific baserunner. Thanks to his dad, Danny, he’s also a switch-hitter. That’s a big plus.
Thomas is the ultimate nice guy, but there’s some barbed-wire toughness in him also.
When he was Ledford’s point guard in basketball, there was a night he took a bad fall in the first quarter and broke his right (shooting) wrist in Salisbury’s gym.Not only wouldn’t he come out of the game, he started shooting ó and making ó his free throws left-handed.
Thomas was an outstanding baseball player at Ledford. No one seemed to notice until the night Catawba scout Pete Needham saw him play.
Catawba signed Thomas without serious competition, and coach Jim Gantt is certain the program got the biggest steal in its storied history.
Thomas wasn’t just a four-year starter; he was a four-year superstar.
His senior statistics were ridiculous. He batted .435. His school-record 101 hits included 16 doubles, three triples and 22 homers. He stole 23 bases, knocked in 64 runs.
He walked 11 more times than he struck out, and he made zero errors in the outfield, while chasing down everything that didn’t leave Newman Park.
You can’t have a better year ó or college career ó than Thomas had. Now he turns the page.
He didn’t start seriously thinking about the draft until he ruled the wood-bat Coastal Plain League as a Thomasville HiTom last summer. He was league MVP, and scouts started writing his name down.
Scouts flocked to Newman Park this year, mostly to see junior right fielder Jerry Sands, a 6-foot-4 physical specimen, but Thomas also gained a few fans.
“I knew with Jerry being draft-eligible, more scouts would be watching us,” Thomas said. “I knew Oakland was one of the teams that had come to see us, and the Oakland scout told me he’d seen me a lot more times than I knew about. He said I was one of the college seniors he was going to go in there and fight for on draft day, and I guess he did.”
Sands lasted until the 25th round when the Los Angeles Dodgers took him. Unless, he’s offered substantially more than a 25th-round pick ordinarily commands, Sands, who had 24 homers and 85 RBIs this year, could opt to return to Catawba for his senior year and wreck all the record books next spring.
“I talked to Jerry today and he’s disappointed, kind of upset because he’d expected to go higher,” Thomas said. “But I told him, ‘There’s nothing wrong with having a great summer in the Coastal Plain League and then having a great senior year at Catawba.’ If he just keeps doing what he’s been doing, things will work out fine for Jerry.”
Thomas is feeling every emotion except disappointment. From lightly recruited high school senior to MLB draft pick is quite a ride to take in just four years.
Thomas will head to training camp soon and is not sure where he’ll be assigned. The A’s have a rookie-league team in Arizona, but he could start his career in Vancouver, Candad, in the Northwest League.
The next step up from Vancouver would be Kane County (Ill.) in the low Class A Midwest League.
Thomas talked to Gantt and Needham yesterday. They told him how proud they were of everything he’s accomplished.
Thomas is proud of what he’s done too, but he isn’t interested in resting on his accolades.
He’s ready to prove himself all over again.
Now the real work begins.
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.