Brewers first baseman Eric Thames has been one of baseball’s biggest surprises through the first month of the season.
In 24 games, he’s slashed .345/.466/.810 with 11 home runs (tied for the MLB lead), 19 RBIs and 28 runs in his first big-league season since 2012.
After getting released by the Astros in December 2013, Thames reluctantly made the move to the Korea Baseball Organization, where he hit 124 home runs in three seasons with the NC Dinos.
Typically when a former major-leaguer makes the switch to the KBO, they stay there, but Thames, 30, got his second chance when the Brewers signed him to a three-year deal last November.
In his previous two big-league seasons, Thames combined for just 21 home runs in 181 games. In that span his HR/FB rate was 9.05 percent. This season, it’s 32.4 percent. That’s over a small sample size, and he’s more than certain to regress, but his 83.7 percent contact rate this season is drastically better than his 72.3 percent rate from 2011 to 2012.
Don’t expect Thames to hit 80 home runs, but 40 isn’t out of the question. He hit at least 40 homers in each of his last two seasons with the NC Dinos.
We’ve yet to see the speed this season that Thames displayed in Korea. He has no stolen bases and just one attempt, but he swiped 64 bases in three seasons in the KBO. With his other big-time counting numbers, though, Thames is a four-category fantasy asset. Speed would be just an added bonus.
The Brewers faced a scare when Thames left their game Wednesday against the Reds with left hamstring tightness. But he returned Friday against the Braves after the team’s off-day Thursday.
The lefthanded Thames is slated to face all righthanders in the Brewers’ upcoming four-game series against the Cardinals starting Monday in St. Louis. He’s slashing .323/.450/.708 with seven home runs against righties.
The Brewers’ slugger has been better on the road so far this season, slashing .452/.541/1.161 with six home runs away from Miller Park, so his hot April should carry into early May. Milwaukee follows up its series against the Cardinals with a three-game set in Pittsburgh against the Pirates at hitter-friendly PNC Park, which ranks sixth in home runs on ESPN’s Park Factors.
Thames’ average draft position in Yahoo! leagues was 219.6, and he went undrafted in 10 percent of those leagues. Now he’s owned in 96 percent of both Yahoo! and ESPN leagues, and should be owned in all formats.