Thomas went undrafted out of Virginia Commonwealth University, and a couple of months later got a call from a Winnipeg team official. In his second season in Canada he carved a 1.64 ERA in 34 appearances, with 60 strikeouts (20 walks) in 55 innings.
He spent one more season there before figuring he needed to get back to the United States if he was to have much chance of catching a scout’s eye and getting a shot at an affiliated league. He pitched in seven games for York in the independent Atlantic League in 2012 before signing a minor league deal with the Braves in late May. He was sent to low Class-A Rome at age 25, several years or more older than most players in that league.
After posting a 3.15 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 45-2/3 innings at Rome, Thomas was moved last season to Double-A Mississippi, where he really opened eyes. Relying on a fastball that’s improved significantly as he’s gotten older, and a sharp curveball he honed since signing with the Braves, Thomas posted a 2.76 ERA in 39 games at Mississippi including 13 starts, and piled up 123 strikeouts with 37 walks in 104-1/3 innings.
He got a non-roster invitation to spring training and outpitched a couple of other lefty candidates, allowing three runs, seven hits and five walks with 13 strikeouts in 10-1/3 innings. He was named to the 25-man roster Saturday. Dream come true.
“Adversity, being at the bottom, working my way up to the top,” he said. “It’s a different path, you know? I got to skip a couple of levels in affiliated (leagues). But at the end of the day, I’m just happy to be here.”
Braves' payroll up: The Braves' opening day payroll will be just over $110 million, up about $20 million from 2013 but less than half of Dodgers' major league-high $235 million payroll. The Braves will be right in the middle of the pack, probably 14th or 15th out of 30 teams. They went about $10 million over their planned budget by signing free agent Ervin Santana to a one-year, $14.1 million contract March 12 after season-ending injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy.
All-MLB team: Three Braves — shortstop Andrelton Simmons, right fielder Jason Heyward and closer Craig Kimbrel — made the Joe Sheehan's Sports Illustrated.com 12-man All-Major League Baseball preseason team. No other team had more than one player on the squad.