Thomas, 21, recently gave us a primer of some of the things he’s been working on in camp as well as his off-season work, and much more.
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Are you pleased with the work you’ve put in defensively? Last we spoke, you were working a lot on your range.
TONY THOMAS: Yeah, that was the big thing that I worked on in the off-season and last season. I tried to increase my range a lot, especially to my left and up the middle to get to certain groundballs that I couldn’t reach last year.
Have you been able to tell a difference in your play since then?
THOMAS: Yeah, I’m very pleased with the work that I’ve put in and it’s showing right now in camp.
When you were working on your defense in the off-season, did you have any hands-on coaching from anyone?
THOMAS: Mainly it was doing the work by myself. My dad built this makeshift wall and I threw tennis balls against it to short-hop and to help my hands get better. That was the main thing they wanted me to work on in the off-season: making my hands a lot better and chocking the ball at the glove.
You had told us last year that a new stance was one of the biggest factors in your success with the bat. Exactly what adjustments did you make regarding your stance?
THOMAS: The main adjustment was opening up. The first two years at Florida State, I was jumping up at the ball and pulling up with my shoulder. I was moving a little too quick. So with the open stance and a longer stride, it just slowed everything down and helped me recognize the pitch a little longer. It slowed the game down a lot.
A lot of people have said that you might be one of the biggest steals of the 2007 draft. Isn’t it possible that some people just overlooked you?
THOMAS: You could say it was overlooked. I’m just excited that I got picked up to be honest with you. I know the Cubs are going to give me the chance to make it to the big leagues, and I have a great opportunity with them. I’m just going to take advantage of what I’ve got and see what I can make out of it.
Aside from staying consistent, what are some of the things you’re working on with the bat this spring?
THOMAS: The main thing right now is the inside pitches; just working on turning on the ball and trying to get some backspin and lift on it. A lot of times I was hooking it and hitting it foul. I’m working with (Minor League Hitting Coordinator) Dave Keller ... and a lot of the balls that are hit down the left field line that used to hook foul are now staying fair.
Tim Wilken, the Cubs’ Scouting Director, said last year after the draft that he believes you have the potential to add a little power to your game as you develop. Are you looking to add power?
THOMAS: I’m not looking to add it; it’s not part of my game yet. My job right now is just to hit doubles and steal bases, and even lay a bunt down if the defense isn’t paying attention. But as time goes on and as I get bigger, then power will definitely be added to my game. As of now, I still see myself as a guy that hits the gaps and steals bases.
Obviously, that makes you an ideal candidate for leadoff man.
THOMAS: I’m very comfortable in the leadoff spot and I love it. You control the momentum of your team in the first inning and I just like having that on my shoulders.
Do you also like knowing that you’re such a dangerous entity on the bases because of your speed?
THOMAS: Definitely. When I’m on the bases, it changes the game. It changes the initial way the infielders line up and it also changes how the pitcher pitches to the batter that’s behind me. When I’m in the leadoff spot and I get on base, the 2-3-4 hitters are going to see a lot more fastballs than off-speed stuff because of the threat that I can steal.
You said yourself that you’re a game-changer on the bases, and you stole 28 bases last year while being thrown out just twice. How much of that can be attributed to your natural speed and how much can be attributed to getting good jumps, etc.
THOMAS: That’s exactly what it is. I don’t classify myself as a world-class runner. I think I have good speed, but it’s all about getting good jumps and having the instincts to run the bases. That’s all it is: the jumps and the timing of the pitcher.
Were you at all surprised at how well you were able to carry over your success from Florida State into your first pro season?
THOMAS: I wouldn’t say I was surprised; I expected to do well. But as well as I did right away in my first (pro) season, I was very proud of myself. The main thing is I have to keep it rolling coming into this season. That was just one year and it’s in the past. It’s what I do now that everyone will remember.
Which of the four squads have you been working with in minor league camp this spring?
THOMAS: I’m working with the High-A group right now.
Do you view that as an inclination that you’ll begin the year in Daytona?
THOMAS: Definitely. I started with the High-A squad and have been working with them the whole time. It’s a big compliment. It lets me know that they see the potential in me by skipping me a level, and it shows they’re really giving me a chance.
And with you being from Florida and the Tampa area, it’s a relatively close distance to your folks.
THOMAS: Exactly. My parents haven’t seen me play pro ball yet. Being in the Florida State League ... my dad loves the game as much as I do and he hasn’t seen me play at the professional level, so it would be a thrill to have him watch me play.
Your father, Anthony Thomas, also played a little pro ball, no?
THOMAS: He played in the Pirates’ organization a little bit. He got in a situation where he broke his neck sliding into second. He critiques me all the time and lets me know when I’m doing well. The good thing is he also lets me know when I’m doing badly. He’s always going to give it to me how it is, and that’s a good thing. He’s not going to baby me about anything and I think that’s made me the person I am today.
Conceding that I never saw your father play, maybe you can tell me if there are any similarities in your game and the way he played.
THOMAS: I really didn’t get a chance to see him play too much, but from what I hear and from what people tell me, he was the same way. He hit the gaps and stole a bunch of bases.