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Eric Thames

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Eric Allyn Thames

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Outfielder Eric Thames played in the majors then became the first 40-40 player in the history of the Korea Baseball Organization.

He was a two-time West Catholic Athletic League selection in high school. He hit .376 and slugged .667 at West Valley Junior College in 2006 and made All-Conference. As a sophomore in 2007, he batted .320/.381/.415 as a DH for Pepperdine University. The New York Yankees took him in the 39th round of the 2007 amateur draft (one pick ahead of Will Smith) but he did not sign. He excelled in 2008 - .407/.513/.769, 58 R, 59 RBI in 49 G. He led the West Coast Conference in triples (8), OBP and slugging, was second in runs and RBI (4 behind Ryan Wiegand), 3rd in average, tied for 3rd in home runs (13) and steals (11) and 4th in walks (35). He was named WCC Player of the Year.

He was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the seventh round of the 2008 amateur draft, one pick before Paul Clemens. He was signed by scout Tim Rooney and made his pro debut in 2009 with the Dunedin Blue Jays, hitting .313/.386/.487 in 52 games and also going 6-for-21 with the GCL Blue Jays on a rehab stint; he missed significant time with injury. With the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2010, he hit .288/.370/.526 with 27 home runs, 95 runs and 104 RBI. He was 3rd in the Eastern League in runs (behind Nate Spears and Darin Mastroianni), tied Tagg Bozied for second in home runs (6 behind Joel Guzman), led in RBI (6 over Guzman), led in hit-by-pitch (18, 6 more than anyone else), was second in total bases (261, 3 behind Guzman), was 10th in OBP (between Ben Revere and Nick Evans), ranked 5th in slugging (between Joe Benson and Gerald Laird) and was 3rd in OPS (after Bozier and Hector Gimenez). Among Blue Jays minor leaguers, he was second in runs (to Mastroianni), second in home runs (behind J.P. Arencibia), led in RBI (19 more than Arencibia) and led in total bases (3 more than Arencibia). He was named team MVP and was picked to the EL All-Star team (joining Revere and Mastroianni on the outfield). He was second in league MVP voting to Brandon Laird.

In winter ball, he batted .264/.369/.448 for the Peoria Javelinas, with 15 runs and 16 RBI in 23 games. He played in the 2010 Rising Stars Showcase. After beginning 2011 with the Las Vegas 51s, he was recalled by the Blue Jays in May when Adam Lind went on the disabled list and went 1-for-3 against the Tampa Bay Rays in his big league debut on May 18th with a hit off Jeremy Hellickson. He returned to AAA on June 2nd, but then returned to Toronto at the end of June and spent the remainder of the season starting in the outfield, first in right while the Jays temporarily moved Jose Bautista to third base, and then in left after the Jays brought up 3B Brett Lawrie from the minors in early August and returned Bautista to his familiar spot. His first MLB homer came off Paul Maholm. Overall, Eric had a very solid rookie season, ending at .262/.313/.456 with 24 doubles, 5 triples and 12 homers in 95 games. In AAA, he had hit .352/.423/.610 with 25 doubles and 7 doubles in 53 games, driving in 45. He was the first Toronto rookie with at least 5 triples and 10 homers and the first AL rookie to do so since Tadahito Iguchi in 2005. He was second in OPS among AL rookies.

Thames was the starting left fielder when the Jays opened the 2012 season, having beaten out Travis Snider for the job. However, he failed to hit as well as in his rookie year and was returned to Las Vegas at the end of May, having put up a batting line of .243/.288/.365 in 46 games. Back at Las Vegas, his hitting stroke returned, to the tune of a .330/.407/.528 line in 54 games. On July 30th, the Jays addressed their surplus of outfielders by trading both Snider and Thames, with Eric heading to the Seattle Mariners in return for P Steve Delabar. Thames quickly made his presence felt on the Mariners with a number of key hits in August, including a solo homer off Liam Hendriks of the Minnesota Twins in the 8th inning on August 27th that gave Felix Hernandez a 1-0 shutout win. The year, though, ended back on a down note, as he hit .220/.256/.439 in 40 games for the Mariners, with 47 whiffs in 123 AB. He had a 84 OPS+ in MLB, not good for a corner outfielder, after 105 as a rookie.

Thames opened 2013 back in the minors, with the Tacoma Rainiers, where he did well (.295/.382/.479 in 57 G). He was then dealt to the Baltimore Orioles for Ty Kelly and hit .252/.315/.356 in 36 contests for the Norfolk Tides. He was waived in early September and claimed by the Houston Astros, but they let him go in December, not having played a game for them. He batted .286/.359/.486 in 9 games for the Leones del Caracas in the 2013-2014 Venezuelan Winter League.

Moving to the Korea Baseball Organization in 2014, Thames was the top foreign hitter that year, batting .343/.422/.688 with 37 homers, 95 runs and 121 RBI in a hitter-friendly season. He made the league leaderboard in average (8th, between Byung-hun Min and Yong-taik Park), runs (6th, between Jung-ho Kang and Hyung-woo Choi), triples (6, tied for 8th), home runs (3rd, behind Byung-ho Park and Kang), total bases (305, 3rd after Byung-ho Park and Kang), RBI (2nd, 3 behind Byung-ho Park), OPS (3rd, after Kang and Byung-ho Park), slugging (2nd, .051 behind Kang) and OBP (10th, between Byung-kyu Lee and Seok-min Park). One drawback was 13 errors. Byung-ho Park was the KBO Gold Glove winner at 1B (the Gold Glove in South Korea going to the best all-around player at each spot). He was only the second foreign player in KBO annals to top 120 RBI, following Felix Jose, and was the first NC Dinos player to top 100 RBI.

Thames was just getting going, though. He set several league records in 2015, when he hit .381/.497/.790 for the Dinos with 42 doubles, 5 triples, 47 home runs, 130 runs, 103 walks, 140 RBI and 40 steals in 48 tries. He led the league in average (.019 ahead of Han-joon Yoo), runs (one over Byung-ho Park), doubles (tied for first with Yoo), slugging (.076 over Byung-ho Park), OBP (.040 better than Tae-kyun Kim) and OPS (137 points more than Park). He was second in walks (5 behind Jun-suk Choi), total bases (373, 4 behind Byung-ho Park) and RBI (6 behind Byung-ho Park), 3rd in homers (after Byung-ho Park and Yamaico Navarro), 4th in hits, 5th in steals (between Jong-ho Kim and Jae-won Oh) and tied for 6th in triples. He had the first 40-40 season in KBO history (the 8th 30-30 season), the 14th to have 100 runs and 100 RBI in a season and the 14th to draw 100 walks. He broke the league records for slugging and OPS, held by Jinten Haku since the league began play in 1982, was .006 shy of Jose's 14-year-old OBP record, had the 3rd-most RBI in league annals (following Seung-yeop Lee in addition to Byung-ho Park's record total in 2015) and had the 4th-best average (following Haku, Jong-beom Lee and Hyo-jo Jang). He was voted the KBO MVP, getting 50 of 100 votes; Byung-ho Park was close with 44. He was the third foreign MVP, following Danny Rios (2007) and Tyrone Woods (1998). He easily edged Byung-ho Park in the Gold Glove voting this time, 227 votes to 116.

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