While the Michigan baseball team (6-3 Big Ten, 30-7 overall) has had an impressive season thus far, sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas has impressed the most. And Tuesday, his talents were on full display in the Wolverines’ 12-4 victory over Michigan State.
Batting in the leadoff slot, Thomas has consistently started the Wolverines’ offense off on the right foot. His most impressive statistic is that he has reached base in every game this season.
It didn’t take long for him to continue that streak against the Spartans (5-8, 21-17).
He opened the bottom of the first inning with a double that hugged the left-field line. Senior centerfielder Johnny Slater followed him up with another double, this time down the right-field line, to bring Thomas home. Senior Michael Brdar also recorded a run batted-in in the frame after a sacrifice fly to right.
Michigan had allowed Michigan State to score first, but those quick runs in the bottom half of the inning put it up 2-1 going into the second frame.
“(Thomas) knows who he is as a hitter. He’s a catalyst, he’s a table setter, he’s a run scorer,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “… He has tough, competitive, gritty at-bats. He draws walks, he finds his way on base, he can hit the ball from one side of the field to the other.
“Even his outs are competitive. He’ll make pitchers work and throw a lot of pitches, so he’s a true leadoff-type catalyst, sparkplug player in every sense of the word.”
After notching two singles and a groundout, Thomas stepped up to the plate with two outs in the eighth inning. He ripped another single to left field, which brought sophomore right fielder Jonathan Engelmann across the plate. Thomas would follow him home on the next at-bat after Slater hit his fourth double of the game.
Hitting 4-for-5 on the day, Thomas is now batting .366 and has 52 hits on the season — leading the team in both categories. He also leads the team with 27 walks.
If there’s one player the Wolverines want on base as much as possible, it’s Thomas. He has stolen 20 bases in 24 attempts and scored a team-high 33 runs for Michigan this season.
Thomas credited his leap from an average player his freshman year to one of the Wolverines’ most dangerous threats his sophomore season to having more confidence and aggressiveness when he plays. He finished his freshman season batting .258 with 40 hits, 30 runs and one stolen base — marks he has easily surpassed only halfway through this year.
“He had a very good eye at the plate last year as well,” Bakich said. “He didn’t chase very often. He was a guy that still drew walks, still held the zone and still had tough (at-bats), he just didn’t get as many hits. He wasn’t as good of a hitter as he is right now.
“A lot of young hitters, that’s what they need, they need to play and they need to get (at-bats). The more they get into a college program, the better they become. That’s been Ako Thomas from year one to year two. It’s good to see his swing be a lot more simple and more conducive to hitting line drives all over the field.”
Just getting started with his Michigan career, Thomas may only get better from here.