Fantasy Baseball: Is Brewers power sensation Eric Thames for real? –

One thing we knew about Eric Thames coming into the season was that he could hit the ball a long way. He was a decent power prospect in his time in America, but he really discovered his power stroke in Korea, hitting 124 homers in three seasons in the KBO between 2014 and 2016.

That was pretty much all we knew for sure. We didn’t know whether he would be able to apply that skill in games, because he certainly couldn’t in his first stint in the majors. Thames posted just a .727 OPS in 181 games between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, hitting 21 homers and striking out in 27.6 percent of his plate appearances. That wasn’t quite an issue in Korea, as he struck out 19.5 percent of the time in 2016, however that was in a league with a strikeout rate about 80 percent as high as MLB last season.

We also don’t have a huge track record of players coming from Korea to the majors and finding success. Frankly, we don’t have a huge track record of players coming from Korea to the majors period, which makes translating production even more difficult. It’s hard enough to know what to expect from a player going from Triple-A to the majors, and that’s a move hundreds of players make every year, so when it came to Thames, we were to a large extent guessing at his capabilities.

After a few weeks back in the majors, we still know that Thames can hit the ball far. And, 12 games in, we know he isn’t overmatched by major-league pitching. At least, not yet. We know he can make that raw power play in games, as his major-league leading seven homers so far show.

But as good as he’s been, it’s hard to say we know all that much more now about Thames than we did before the season. The Brewers clearly believed Thames was capable of this, as their decision to non-tender Chris Carter showed. However, they also didn’t pay him much more than a pretty good bench bat would get in free agency, so there was certainly some measured optimism in their addition.

It’s hard to say if Thames can sustain this kind of production, because we’re dealing with tiny sample sizes, but this is a good reflection of the upside anyone could see he has. He was one of the best hitters in one of the best leagues in the world, and even if he wasn’t facing major-league caliber pitching every at-bat, it’s hard to fake that kind of ability.

However, this hot two weeks doesn’t change all that much of how you should view Thames. He was worth drafting in the later rounds because he had this kind of potential, but there’s simply no guarantee what we’re seeing will stick. Thames has had a pretty good eye at the plate, swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone just 15.7 percent of the time, per PITCHf/x data. That’s a great sign, especially given his tiny 7.8 percent swinging strike rate, however he has also seen just 206 pitches total, less than 10 percent what you would expect for a full season.

Specifically, Thames has seen just 33 pitches from left-handed pitchers. He has homered twice off them, but it’s still far too early to know if he really will be able to hold his own against them. He was a solid hitter against righties in his earlier stints in the majors, but hit just .217 with four homers in 138 at-bats against lefties, a big enough flaw that it played a big part in why he couldn’t stick in the majors.

Everything we’ve seen from Thames in the early going indicates he can more than hold his own in the majors. But it’s worth noting that Korean import Byung Ho Park had a .923 OPS as late as May 15 last season, before hitting .127/.210/.245 in his final 31 games. He hasn’t had a chance to redeem himself since.

Thames may have fixed the holes in his game since the last time we saw him. He could be an impact bat, and he deserves to be owned and started in all Fantasy leagues at this point. However, there’s also a chance opposing pitchers simply haven’t found the right holes to exploit in his game yet; every batter has holes, and it’s only a matter of time before Thames’ are found. The question then becomes whether he can adjust to the adjustments, and then whether he can adjust to the adjustments to the adjustments, and so on in perpetuity.

That’s what baseball is all about. What we’ve seen so far from Thames shows he isn’t overwhelmed, which is a great sign. But, we’re a long way from proving he’s an elite hitter at the major-league level. Maybe he can, and these two weeks will look like obvious proof in the long run.

Regardless, I’m excited to see where he goes from here — especially since I own plenty of Thames. 


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