As many of you know, Joe Thurston is one of my favorite sleepers for the year. Don't know why, I just like the guy. Here are two articles about Thurston, the first from ESPN.com and the second from MLB.com's fantasy writer "Rotoman".
Thurston was drafted in the fourth round in 1999, from Sacramento Community College. His rise through the system has been textbook: short-season in '99, Class A in 2000, Double-A in '01, Triple-A in '02. His strongest seasons were at San Bernadino in '00, where he hit .303 with 43 steals, and at Las Vegas in '02, where he hit .334 with 12 homers and 22 steals. He led the minor leagues with 196 hits last year, looked good in a September major-league trial, and is ready for a job in '03.
Thurston is a good natural athlete, with above-average speed being his best attribute. His instincts on the bases are very strong, and his work ethic is praised by scouts and coaches. His nickname is "Joey Ballgame," and his personality is an asset in the clubhouse and on the field. Thurston is a contact hitter who does not strike out much. His plate discipline needs work, especially if he is going to hit at the top of the order, but he's proven he can hit for average. He has good power to the gaps, and could hit 10-12 homers a year with maturity. Thurston's defense draws mixed reviews. He is alert on the field and tries hard, but his hands aren't quick, and he'll never win a Gold Glove. If he hits, his defense is playable.
Hitting .334 at Las Vegas is equivalent to hitting about .270-.275 in Dodger Stadium. He needs to boost his walk rate to keep his on-base percentage at decent levels, and sticking him at the top of the order may end up being a drag on the offense. Thurston's exceptional work ethic and desire to improve his deficiencies give him a decent chance to correct this, if he's encouraged to do so by the coaching staff.
Injuries have not been a problem for him. Thurston has never visited the disabled list, and shows an admirable ability to play through the miscellaneous bruises and scratches to which middle infielders are vulnerable.
What to expect
Several teams have asked about Thurston in trades over the last three years, but the Dodgers held onto him, and he should open 2003 as their starting second baseman. Thurston's hustle and positive personality have made him a fan favorite at each stop on the minor-league ladder, and this is likely to continue in the majors. Given 140 games and some patience on the part of management through the inevitable rookie adjustment period, Thurston should hit .260-.280 with 20-25 doubles and 6-9 home runs. His on-base percentage is likely to be mediocre, since he doesn't draw enough walks. Improving his plate discipline over the long haul will determine whether he reaches his full potential.
Joe Thurston is the guy who could break out the way Soriano did. He's got the speed, and he has at least some of the power. He also shows the same lack of interest in the strike zone. He gets my vote as most likely to surprise this year.