By: Matt McHugh
June 14, 2017
Although he stands at just 5-8, Ako Thomas was expected to make a huge impact for the Kettleers this summer. So far, he has not disappointed.
Thomas shined in his sophomore season at the University of Michigan. He hit .368 with a .479 on base percentage – both marks led the Big Ten – and was named to the All-Big Ten first team. He also stole 21 bases – an ideal fit for coach Mike Roberts and his aggressive baserunning.
“I’d like to have six or seven [players] that can run like that and have the instincts like he does,” Roberts said. He’s a real picker-upper. We had Tony Kemp a few years ago from Vanderbilt – exact same type player. We’re really excited to have him in our infield and in our lineup.”
Tony Kemp is now a member of the Houston Astros organization and has played in 61 games at the major league level. Thomas also has experience running frequently, as the Wolverines stole 125 bases this season, the third-highest total in college baseball.
“At school we run all the times so I’m pretty used to it,” Thomas said.
Roberts wasted no time testing out his new talent. Thomas singled in his first at bat in the third inning, and quickly took second base on a failed hit and run. Although he had a small lead, he took off and made it to 2nd base in plenty of time.
“That pitch was supposed to be a hit and run, that’s why I didn’t have that big of a lead, but the pitch was in the dirt so I ended up just taking the bag. I like coach Roberts’s running style, I’m used to it from back at school.”
In the fifth inning, Thomas came up with runners on first and second with nobody out, and laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, allowing Zack Kone to score from third on a wild pitch later that inning.
Thomas also shined on the defensive end all game long, and his smooth defense up the middle helped the Kettleers work out of multiple jams. The Kettleers generated four double plays, and Thomas helped turn three of them. The hardest hit one came in the fifth inning off the bat of Jake Alu, which Thomas speared cleanly, to start an inning-ending double play.
“I feel like we all like helping our pitchers out,” Thomas said. “Just making those routine plays, getting pitchers out of jams with double plays. You just feed of of them. You get one, get another one, it’s just routine after that.”
This season at Michigan, Thomas recorded 60 putouts, had 113 assists and only made one error, good for a .994 fielding percentage – another mark among the best in the Big Ten.
“A couple years ago we struggled defensively, so [General Manager Bruce] Murphy and I go try to find people that we think can handle the routine ground ball,” Roberts said. Four double plays in a tight game like that make the difference.”
Thomas also had the benefit of playing behind a familiar face. Michigan pitcher Jayce Vancena threw 2.2 innings of relief on Wednesday, and held the Braves to just one run on three hits.
“Jayce is a really good pitcher; I just love playing defense behind him,” Thomas said. “He usually gets me ground balls and I just make the routine plays behind him.”
Thomas and the Kettleers will head back to Cotuit for their home opener against Falmouth on Thursday.
- Terrin Vavra (Minnesota), the Kettleers starting shortstop, exited the game after taking a ground ball off the face in the 4th inning. He was replaced by Andrew Turner (Long Island University-Brooklyn), a temporary player who went 0-3. Vavra was 0-1 with a strikeout.
- Speaking of Turner, the Kettleer infielder was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 40th round of the MLB draft. Turner was informed of his selection in the Kettleer dugout during Wednesday’s game.
- Two returning Kettleers had an impact on Wednesday, with right-handed pitcher Jason Bilous (Coastal Carolina) getting the start and centerfielder Greyson Jenista (Wichita State) batting leadoff. Jenista played in 42 games for the Kettleers last season, while Bilous started four games on the mound.
- In addition to Thomas and Vancena, the Kettleers featured another set of college teammates in Wednesday’s contest. Starting catcher and starting first baseman Mitch Bigras and starting catcher Gian Martellini both come from Boston College.