Michael Clete Thomas
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 195 lb.
- School Auburn University
- High School A. Crawford Mosley High School
- Debut March 31, 2008
"From what I've seen he's the best tools prospect that we have." - Detroit manager Jim Leyland
Named after his father's favorite baseball player, Clete Boyer, outfielder Clete Thomas was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the fifth round of the 2002 amateur draft but did not sign with the club. He went on to attend Auburn University, where he hit .297 with 41 runs scored and 11 stolen bases in 63 games as a freshman. The next year, he batted .329, scored 53 runs, and swiped 24 bases in 56 games, and as a junior, he hit .328 while scoring 66 runs, clubbing 9 home runs, and stealing 23 bases in 60 appearances.
After being selected by the Detroit Tigers in the sixth round of the 2005 amateur draft, Thomas was signed by scout Jerome Cochran. He began his pro career in 2005 with the Oneonta Tigers, hitting .386 in 18 games with the club. He was then promoted to the West Michigan Whitecaps, for whom he hit .284 in 51 games. With the Lakeland Tigers the following summer, he posted a .257 average and stole 34 bases while making just 3 errors in the outfield. He spent the entire 2007 season with the Erie Sea Wolves, where he hit .280 with 97 runs scored and 30 doubles.
Thomas made the Tigers Opening Day roster in 2008 and made his big league debut in the Tigers opener against the Kansas City Royals on March 31st (the same day another Jacksonville-born rookie, Darren O'Day, made his big league debut). In that game, he also earned his first hit, an 11th inning double off Joakim Soria. He started the next three games in centerfield for the Tigers, notching 3 hits against the Chicago White Sox on April 4th and hitting .500 through his first four big league games. He was sent back down to the AAA Toledo Mud Hens when Curtis Granderson was activated from the disabled list in late April but later returned to the Tigers and hit his first big league homer off Nick Blackburn of the Minnesota Twins on July 13th. Overall, he hit .284 in 40 games in the majors and missed out on a September callup due to a late season elbow injury that required surgery.
After starting 2009 back with the Mud Hens, Thomas spent the majority of the year in the majors with Detroit. On June 7th, facing the Los Angeles Angels, he entered the game as a pinch-runner in the fourth inning and hit a game-winning grand slam home run off Jason Bulger in the eighth. In doing so, he became only the fifth player since 1970 to hit a go-ahead grand slam in a game he entered as a pinch-runner. In 102 games with the Tigers that year, he hit .240 with 7 homers and 39 RBI.
Thomas struggled with a knee injury in 2010, hitting .183 with 4 home runs in just 21 games with AAA Toledo before being sidelined for the remainder of the year after surgery. He came back in 2011 to hit .251 with 12 homers and 53 RBI for the Mud Hens. He made his return to the major leagues after a two-year absence at the start of the 2012 season, scoring once as a pinch-runner in three games, before being placed on waivers on April 14th. He was claimed by the Minnesota Twins and remained in the big leagues until the first days of May, going 4 for 28 with a double and a homer. He was then ceded to the AAA Rochester Red Wings, where he played 109 games, hitting .232/.281/.405 with 22 doubles and 12 homers. He was back in Rochester at the start of the 2013 season, hitting .296 in 36 games before being called up on June 6th with rookie CF Aaron Hicks ailing from a hamstring injury. On June 12th, he had perhaps the best game of his career against the Philadelphia Phillies; he had four hits, drove in the game-tying run in the 8th, and continued to score the game winner on a wild pitch by Justin De Fratus as the Twins won, 4-3.