Born in Houston, Texas, Dickie Thon grew up in the United States before moving to Puerto Rico to attend high school. He was no stranger to Puerto Rico before high school though, or to baseball in general at a young age.
“I moved to Puerto Rico freshman year, but every summer and winter I would go back there to play. I played a bit of Little League in the States. In Puerto Rico I played with Las Lomas; that’s where I developed as a player,” Thon said.
While attending Academia Perpetuo Socorro in San Juan, Thon used his overall athletic gifts to play basketball and volleyball as an outside hitter for the Puerto Rican national youth team. Thon, who can run the 60 meters in a 6.6 seconds, showcased his speed in Puerto Rico in track and field as well, competing in the 100 meters and long jump as well as becoming the reigning high school champion in the 200 meters.
Thon played baseball primarily for Las Lomas while he was in Puerto Rico because his high school did not have a baseball team, and he feels that having the unique opportunity of playing baseball in two different countries will help him out in the long run.
“It was a good experience. I got to play baseball in two different cultures and I consider myself a fusion of both styles of play,” he said.
Growing up, Thon and his father spent time watching old movies, the New York Yankees’ YES network and classic baseball games together, while talking about baseball overall. Dickie Joe watched tapes and documentaries of Mickey Mantle, his favorite baseball player, who retired in 1968, 23 years before Thon was born. Mantle is definitely a good choice for a favorite baseball player, but Thon was not as specific when asked what his favorite baseball team was.
“Mickey Mantle is my favorite player but really I’ve never had a favorite team. I could say the [Houston] Astros of the 80’s because of my dad,” he said.
Who exactly was Thon’s dad?
That would be Dickie Thon Sr., a former Major League shortstop who had stints with the Angels, Astros, Padres, Phillies, Rangers, and Brewers. Touted as a future Hall of Famer by some, Thon Sr. is best known for when his career was permanently altered on April 8, 1984 when he was hit in the face by a fastball from New York Mets pitcher Mike Torrez. The pitch broke the orbital bone around Thon Sr.’s left eye, ending his season, and when he returned in 1985 he just wasn’t the same, suffering from problems with depth perception. Looking back at the incident, many people have thought about what Thon Sr.’s career could have been like had he not suffered the injury.
Following his father’s footsteps as a shortstop, Thon Jr. had never experimented play anywhere else on the diamond.
“Not really [no], I was raised playing shortstop and love that position,” he said.
Aside from good baseball genes and growing up in the game of baseball, Thon’s father has given him his fair share of advice over the years as well.
“Ever since I was little he guided me to play the correct way. I always remember he told me, ‘once you become a professional, you are one 24/7, and when you play, always give the fans their money’s worth. Give the fans a show,'” Thon said.
Even though he’s described as a raw player from a developmental standpoint, Thon has already exhibited above-average tools across the board. Scouts feel he’s farther away from the Majors than most people think, but his great speed, plus arm, fringe power, and above-average plate discipline should help him develop into an effective Major League shortstop in the future.
When asked what aspect of his game he feels is the strongest, Thon mentioned something not normally found on a traditional scouting report.
“I think my attitude towards the game. I was brought up to have the most respect to the game and to play your heart out every play,” he said.
The Blue Jays must have understandably been impressed with not only Thon’s skill set, but also his maturity towards the game, as they selected him with their 5th round selection (156th overall) in the 2010 draft.
Thon was far from surprised that Toronto was the team that wound up selecting him, though.
“I was actually practicing, and Toronto [being] the team [that] selected me wasn’t really a surprise. They were present the whole year, and they have selected many great Puerto Rican players so I thought it was a great opportunity,” he said.
Drafting Thon was the easy part for the Jays. Managing to sign him was widely considered the hard part.
After apparently turning down a more lucrative scholarship to the University of Florida, Thon signed a letter of intent with Rice University. His commitment to the school was rumored to be so strong that many clubs were nervous about drafting him due to their skepticism about being able to actually sign him. The Jays, however, always remained interested, even if it involved taking a risk.
“All teams knew how my approach towards the draft was. The Jays were always around despite that,” Thon said.
Thon’s father also felt very strongly about his son attending Rice. Many were skeptical the Jays would be able to sign Thon after his father had some interesting comments in an interview with FOX 26 Houston about how the Jays were handling his son’s signing process.
“Toronto wanted to take Joe in the compensatory round, but we couldn’t agree [on the signing bonus],” Thon Sr. said.
“[He] is not a fifth-rounder and I don’t like the way [Toronto] treated him during the draft. They kept calling to see if we were going to come down. Our commitment is very high to Rice and it is going to take a lot for him to go to Toronto. He is committed to Rice and I’m leaning toward Rice. He is going to be a better player after going to Rice.”
When negotiations got a little dicey, Thon and his family turned to Jose Cruz. A familiar face for Blue Jays fans, it was the same Jose Cruz Jr. who spent over five Major League seasons in a Jays uniform.
“The Cruz family is very close to my family, since our parents played a lot together. Cruz Jr. is my agent , [so] they helped out with the negotiations,” Thon said.
In the end, the Blue Jays were able to pry Thon away from his commitment to Rice, agreeing on a $1.5 million signing bonus. The bonus was a clear example of how money is there for GM Alex Anthopoulos from Rogers, as it was $1,338,900 above the recommended slot amount and more money than 12 first round draft picks signed for.
At the time of the draft, after his comments to FOX 26 Houston were published, it seemed fair to assume that Thon’s father and the Blue Jays must have soured their relationship as a result. Thon Jr. was able to set the record straight on that when asked if there was actually any bad blood between his father and the Blue Jays.
“Not at all, we have a good relationship with the Jays, the negotiations went very well. The only thing we asked for was to make an agreement with enough time to notify Rice [of] my decision, which [the Blue Jays] respectfully did,” he said.
Thon was far from disappointed or surprised that he was selected in the 5th round, too.
“I knew how the draft was. The fact [the Blue Jays] gave me the opportunity to play pro for them was an honor, and I’m very proud to be a part of this organization,” he said.
Shortly after the signing was officially announced, Thon was able to get his first taste of professional baseball with the Jays. He reported to the Jays’ instructional league in the fall and definitely liked what he saw.
“It was a great experience, [my] first taste of pro ball. I can’t wait to head back,” he said.
Despite being new to the Blue Jays organization, Thon saw some familiar faces when he arrived at the instructional league.
After the instructional league, Thon increased his offseason workload to better prepare for his first professional spring training.
“I played winter ball in Puerto Rico with the Gigantes de Carolina, but now I’m practicing in the morning and training in the afternoon,” he said.
It was recently announced that Thon has reported to Dunedin as 1 of 35 minor league prospects that were invited to take part in the Blue Jays’ mini-camp. It’s unclear if the situation has changed since, but at least at the time of this interview, Thon said that the Jays haven’t let him know where he’ll play in 2011 yet.
“No idea, it all depends how you show up in spring training and how you produce,” he said.
Even though he’s considered to be far away from the Majors right now, Thon is yet another prospect with a high ceiling that is a welcome addition to the Blue Jays’ minor league system. With all of the shortstop prospect attention being focused on Adeiny Hechavarria, Blue Jays Director of Amateur Scouting Andrew Tinnish recently said that he wouldn’t be surprised if Thon was just as good as, if not better than, Hechavarria.
If that becomes the case, the Jays could have an embarrassment of riches at shortstop for years to come.