WALNUT RIDGE — Walnut Ridge’s Mari Thomas is expected to have a dual role on the diamond when he joins Crowder College’s baseball program in 2021-22.
Thomas, a third baseman who signed with the Roughriders on Tuesday, has attracted additional recruiting interest with his pitching performance over the summer and fall, Walnut Ridge coach Jason Belcher said.
“Originally he was a position player, a third baseman, and he pitched during the summer. We had been working on pitching before COVID-19 hit,” Belcher said. “He pitched during the summer and hit 88, 89 (mph) on the mound and got on the radar as a pitcher. The Razorbacks were interested along with several other D-1 teams. They envision him being a pitcher as well.”
Thomas, a 6-foot-4 senior, transferred from Nettleton to Walnut Ridge before his junior year. He pitched a five-inning no-hitter against Paragould while striking out nine batters as a sophomore.
Walnut Ridge’s 2020 spring season was limited to six games because of COVID-19, with Thomas belting a home run in a game against Palestine-Wheatley. Belcher said Thomas pitched in only one game before the Bobcats’ season ended, but he added that Thomas has since performed well for Sticks Baseball.
“We’re looking at the ceiling being really, really high for him as a pitcher,” Belcher said. “He hasn’t had the experience as a pitcher, so he’s extremely raw and to be where he’s at right now, he’s just scratching the surface of what he potentially could be.”
Belcher said Crowder, which is located in Neosho, Mo., had already offered Thomas as a position player and upped the scholarship to full because of his potential to also contribute as a pitcher. The Roughriders have appeared annually in the junior college national rankings since 2010 and have played in the JUCO World Series twice.
“They’re going to develop him as a pitcher and there’s outside interest of being drafted if he gets his numbers up to 90-plus, being 6-foot-4 and as young as he is,” Belcher said. “I think he’s a young senior and he runs in the 6.5 (second) 60s. He has tools that are really, really good.”