D-backs prospect Alek Thomas can be defined as many things: a millennial, a former three-sport athlete and a coach's son. However, Thomas, who is participating in a special D-backs Hitter's Camp this week at Salt River Fields in Arizona, refuses to be boxed in, labeled or to somehow give in to what other people may think his ceiling might be.
That is how the 18-year-old prospect, whom Arizona selected 63rd overall in the 2018 MLB Draft starts his first full season in the Minors as the club's No. 6 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
"[The D-backs] definitely showed some interest, but I didn't know who was going to draft me," said Thomas, whose father, Allen, is the current director of strength and conditioning for the White Sox. "[The scouts] showed up to my school, did the eye test and were all like 'All right; see you later.' It was a surprise when I got drafted. I'm very thankful the D-backs selected me."
The father-son bond is a big part of what makes the 5-foot-11, 175-pound center fielder the promising and versatile athlete who took the Arizona Rookie League and the Pioneer League by storm this past season.
"My dad was my biggest influence. He made me into the man I am today on and off the field," said Thomas, who as a 16-year-old remembers running speed drills at U.S. Cellular Field with a resistance band held by his father.
"Continue to be a hard worker," he added. "That is probably the biggest lesson I got from the White Sox. My dad would always tell me that you always have to have the mentality that someone is better than you, so keep working hard."
Thomas slashed a combined .333/.395/.463 with 22 extra-base hits, 27 RBIs and 12 steals in 2018, numbers that stood out just as much as his range in the outfield. His hard work paid off when he was named one of the 2018 Organizational Players of the Year at Missoula, thanks to a .341 batting average that was fourth best on the team and an .891 OPS (fifth best) during his 28 games with the Osprey.
That kind of success isn't luck, but rather a byproduct of how Thomas made the most of his time on the South Side of Chicago, gaining valuable advice from players and coaches who are like father figures to him.
"Todd Frazier was one of the players who influenced me the most," Thomas said. "He taught me that you can go 1-for-40 [at the plate], but you need to continue to be the same dude day in and day out.
"Adam Engel taught me about the Minor League lifestyle. He had a kid during his time in the Minor Leagues, had to rent an apartment, struggled, and then it all paid off once he made it to the Majors."
It wasn't all hard work and no play. There was also time for fun and shenanigans for Thomas as a kid in Chicago.
"My biggest memory was that I was at home watching the game and [Mark] Buehrle was throwing a perfect game, so I told my mom that we had to go to the ballpark right then and there," he said. "I showed up for the last out, in the stands behind home plate watching that amazing Dewayne Wise catch that saved the perfect game…without a ticket, just snuck in there.
"It was definitely a special moment, and it was even more special to witness it with my dad there."
Thomas was a three-sport athlete at Mount Carmel (Ill.) High School who played football and basketball as well. He was named Gatorade's Illinois Baseball Player of the Year in 2017, and Texas Christian offered him a football scholarship this year, but Thomas chose professional baseball with no regrets.
"I watched a few TCU football games this season," Thomas said. "The Ohio State game was pretty big. I did wonder about what could have been if I was out there, but I chose the right profession [for me]. I'm not necessarily a TCU fan, but I do watch them. Sometimes I mess around with friends as a wide receiver, but football is past me now, and I'm focusing on baseball.
"I had to learn a lot of different positions as a football player, and that helped me arrive with an open mind to the Diamondbacks' organization as well as processing information. My gritty attitude definitely translated to baseball."
Thomas doesn't overthink things. He goes with the flow and adapts to new circumstances with relative ease even as he has had to move from Chicago to Phoenix and then Montana, where he stayed with a host family and became friends with shortstop and fellow top prospect Blaze Alexander.
"That was fun and everything was good. [We] went down the river in Montana, which was cool. Definitely enjoyed my time there," said Thomas, who alongside along other top D-backs prospects visited Chase Field last September -- a site he is eager to return to in the not-so-distant future as a Major Leaguer.
"I want to be an impact player," he said. "I don't want to just get to the Majors, I want to stay and have an impactful career as one of the best Diamondbacks ever. I set high standards. If you don't, you are selling yourself short. Aim for the clouds."