Former YSU pitcher now with Angels’ Triple-A team in Salt Lake City
By Joe Scalzo
Justin Thomas has pitched in the Steel City, the Emerald City, Beantown and the Bronx.
He’s pitched in the Midwest League, the Northwest League, the California League, the Southern League, the Pacific Coast League (not to be confused with Japan’s Pacific League, where he’s also pitched), the International League, the American League and the National League.
The only thing he does better than moving pitches up and down the strike zone is moving his family up and down the United States.
“We definitely get around,” he said. “That’s for sure.”
But the former Youngstown State standout still managed to find somewhere new this spring.
After finishing last year overseas, Thomas signed with the Los Angeles Angels in the offseason and is a starting pitcher with their Triple-A team, the Salt Lake Bees, whose stadium outfield features a terrific view of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.
“We’re in a vacation rental home right on the mountains,” he said. “We’ve never stayed by the mountains, let alone on the side of one. It’s a really cool setup and Salt Lake is a really cool city.”
The only bad part?
“It’s high elevation, which makes the ball fly,” he said. “So it’s a tough place to pitch.”
The left-handed Thomas (1-0) made his first start on Monday, giving up three runs in five innings with seven strikeouts and three walks to get the win.
It was his first game in eight days and he’s still stretching out his arm, having thrown five innings in his last two spring training appearances.
Thomas has pitched in 31 major league games with four teams — always as a reliever — but he thinks starting gives him his best chance to get called up to the bigs.
“As a starter, you can pretty much do anything, but as a bullpen guy, you can’t start,” he said. “It’s beneficial to have your arm stretched out because you can go up to the big leagues and pitch three, four, five innings.”
Thomas, 30, was a fourth-round draft pick by the Mariners in 2005 and made his major league debut with Seattle in 2008, appearing in eight games. He had a 10-game stint with the Pirates in 2010, then played a combined 11 games in 2012 with the Red Sox and Yankees.
Thomas started last season with Oakland’s Triple-A team in Sacramento, but after going 3-6 with a 4.48 ERA in 16 games, he opted out of his contract and spent the rest of the season with the Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Japanese Baseball League.
Thomas was again a free agent at the end of the season and the Angels showed the most interest. He’s hoping to get back to the major leagues at some point this season, but he and his family are enjoying Utah.
“It’s a little colder [than spring training in Arizona] but we’re getting adjusted,” said Thomas, who lives with his wife Theresa and his 21/2-year-old daughter Ella in Orrville in the offseason. “My daughter [Ella] likes to go to the games and see the mascots run around, so they’ve been having a ball.”