FORT MYERS, Fla. — When Clete Thomas toiled for the Detroit Tigers from 2008-12, Tigers manager Jim Leyland described him as a “dirtbag.” Leyland meant it as a compliment — a tribute to the all-out way Thomas plays the game.
There never was any doubt in Leyland’s mind that Thomas, the Tigers’ sixth-round draft pick in 2005, could be a big-league ballplayer.
He would run, he could throw and he could hit, and he could hit with power.
“He’s a four-tools guy,” Leyland said at the time. “He’s got a lot of tools.”
Now, along with Darin Ruf (7 for 25, .280), Tony Gwynn Jr. (3 for 12, .250), and Bobby Abreu (2 for 18, .111), Thomas (1 for 8, .125) hopes to be a guy who provides some much-needed depth this season behind Marlon Byrd, Ben Revere, and Domonic Brown, along with John Mayberry Jr.
Thomas or Mayberry could be the backup centerfielder the Phillies need.
“I’m just tying to make the team any way I can,” Thomas said.
Thomas signed with the Phillies last winter because he believes they offered him the best opportunity to get back the the big leagues.
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “I wouldn’t have signed here if I didn’t think I had a chance to make the team.”
During parts of three seasons with the Tigers, and two with the Minnesota Twins, Thomas' downfall was always the same — his tendency to strike out (211 times in 709 at-bats) and the fact that he could never seem to stay healthy.
Elbow and knee injuries hampered Thomas’ progress in Detroit, where he was a favorite of Leyland’s.
It was said about him that if he didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have had any luck at all.
Now Thomas hopes all that is in the past.
He batted a career-high .284 in part-time duty with the Tigers in 2008. The next year, appearing in 102 games, he hit seven homers and knocked in 39 runs.
With Minnesota last season, the 30-year-old Thomas started 79 of the Twins’ final 105 games before being removed from the 40-man roster — even though he played in more games (92) than any other Twins outfielder last year.
“With all the guys they have, all the guys they have coming up, I wasn’t surprised,” he said.
Thomas signed a minor-league contract with the Phillies over the winter with the promise of an invitation to spring training.