If you’ve been to any Fresno State baseball game in the 2017 season, then you have surely noticed that pitching has not been the Bulldogs’ strong suit, with the exception of junior lefty Ricky Tyler Thomas.
On the mound, with his athletic prescription glasses, Thomas’ generously listed 6-foot-1, 185-pound stature is hardly intimidating – until he throws his 90 mph fastball.
Thomas led the Mountain West last season with 108 strikeouts, posting a 2.16 ERA in 104 innings and limiting opponents to a .223 batting average.
In just five games this season, the San Diego native is well on his way to topping last season’s statistics.
The social work major has pitched over half of each game, totaling 32.1 innings etching 48 strikeouts, 12 walks and a 3.06 ERA. Thomas’ record is 2-1, but when he’s pitching, the Bulldogs’ record is 2-3.
In three of the five games that Thomas has pitched, the Bulldogs have led their opponents, but later on given up the lead. In another three of the five games that Thomas has started, he has been the first of four pitchers atop the hill, all entering the game after Thomas’ five innings or more.
Needless to say, Thomas has been a staple for the Bulldogs and head coach Mike Batesole, but the bullpen needs some fine tuning, particularly the relief pitchers. Batesole’s go-to relievers, junior Fred Schlichtholz, redshirt junior JJ Santa Cruz and sophomore Edgar Gonzalez should be doing exactly that: relieving their starting pitcher and defense.
“These kids aren’t perfect; sometimes they get beat. There’s no minor leaguers to call up. There’s no trades to be made,” Batesole said. “We gotta get these guys better. The guys that we have are the guys that we have, and we gotta make ‘em pitch better.”
Schlichtholz has pitched in six games this season for a total of 17 innings and allowed 13 hits and eight earned runs. Santa Cruz has given up 20 hits and 11 earned runs in 16.2 innings across eight games. Also in eight games and 14 innings pitched, Gonzalez has given up 13 hits and four earned runs.
Thomas has chalked up just 11 earned runs in 32.1 innings. Ranked 44th on Baseball America’s top 100 draft prospects, the pitcher is sure to be at the very least a second-round draft pick. And with the way Thomas’ season is going and the way in which his fellow slingers’ seasons are not, forgoing his senior year to enter the draft would be wise for the 21-year-old.
After all, Major League Baseball has become a pitcher’s game, and Thomas falls nothing short of a competitor.
Thomas’ passion and determination to win when he’s out on the bump is hard to miss, but hard to detect among his teammates.
Fresno State baseball has inked three pitchers in their incoming 2017-18 recruiting class, but three newcomers will not solve the Bulldogs’ bullpen woes in a single season for the sake of their star in Thomas.
While I am not normally one to suggest taking money and fame over an education, Thomas’ potential is not being reached at Pete Beiden Field. Not entering the draft this June would mean another year of leaving the field with his head hung low and, without a doubt, a missed opportunity for Thomas to make his mark in the big leagues.