It's been a long journey for Eric Thames.
He bounced around three different organizations, and it seemed like a career as a journeyman might have been his best-case scenario. In parts of two seasons, he hit just .250/.296/.431 in the majors, before deciding to pack his bags and head to South Korea in 2013.
That was, without question, the best decision Thames has ever made. He joined the KBO right as a league-wide power surge took hold, and put his name back on MLB minds. Over his three seasons in South Korea, Thames hit .348/.450/.720 with 124 homers, impressive numbers even when you account for the league context; over the three seasons, the average hitter in the KBO hit .286/.361/.436. He had an OPS+ of 189 in South Korea, comparable to Ted Williams' career mark in the majors.
Thames dominated the KBO so thoroughly that the Brewers were convinced to sign him to a three-year deal this offseason, with more than $15 million guaranteed. That isn't a huge investment, but it's a lot for someone who was barely a bench player in his last stint in the majors. The Brewers are betting that Thames figured something out in South Korea. Should Fantasy players?
Part of the problem here is figuring out just how to translate Thames' numbers from the KBO to MLB. We have long had ways to estimate how certain numbers translate across leagues, from the minors to the majors, say, or from Cuba to the majors. These are never going to perfect, but once enough players have gone moved from one league to the other, we can have a decent estimate of how the translation works.
With South Korean baseball, we just don't have much to go on. There have been relatively few South Korean players in the majors, and players would often go from the KBO to the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan, rather than straight to the majors. We've had hundreds of players make the jump from Double-A to the majors, while the number making the kind of leap Thames is numbers in the low dozens.
There have been high-profile players in recent years, but their track record is mixed. When he's on the field, Jung-ho Kang is a star, while Byung-ho Park was unable to make his impressive power translate in the majors. The lack of comparable players makes it tough to judge what expectations for Thames should be, however, the various projections systems out there have surprisingly come to a pretty nice consensus on Thames:
PECOTA isn't buying it, but everyone else projects Thames for an ISO above .200, a mark that would have put him just outside the top-50 for qualified hitters last season. For the most part, the power is expected to translate, but if it translates into 18 homers in a part-time role, as Sportsline expects, there isn't much there for Fantasy players to get excited about. Those are Justin Bour numbers.
The higher end starts to get pretty interesting though. If Thames can play everyday and maintain a decent enough batting average, 30 homers isn't out of the question. That Steamer projection looks a lot like what you might expect from, say, Adam Jones, and would make him a useful Fantasy option in any format.
If you had to draft Thames where Jones is likely to go, in the early-middle rounds, there's no way Thames would be worth the risk. There's too great a chance that he completely flames out, turning into little more than a bench bat with pop. The Brewers have enough depth -- and his contract is reasonable enough -- that they can survive that, but Fantasy players need to price his risk in.
The good news is, that is likely to happen. According to FantasyPros.com's early ADP data, Thames is going around the 18th round. At that price, Thames is well worth the risk. The Brewers have the ability to take a chance on Thames, because the downside is he is a bench bat, and Fantasy players should view him the same way.
Don't draft Thames as someone you need to rely on, but if you can get him with your utility spot, or as a bench bat, he's an incredibly intriguing piece as he makes his return to the league.