Iowa Cubs Pitcher Thomas Diamond – A Conversation

Over the past 15 seasons, the Number 10 pick of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft has given us superstars such as Tim Lincecum (Giants, 2006) and other well-known players such as Ben Sheets (Brewers, 1999), Jon Garland (Cubs, 1997), Eric Chavez (Athletics, 1996) and Ian Stewart (Rockies, 2003). That selection slot has also been used to choose players such as Joe Torres (Angels, 2000), Chris Burke (Astros, 2001) and Drew Meyer (Rangers, 2002). In 2004, the Texas Rangers used the selection to draft Thomas Diamond, from the University of New Orleans.

At the beginning of his minor league career, Diamond was a rising star for the Rangers. After signing, Diamond was sent to Spokane in the Northwest League. He was there for only 17 days, pitching in five games, 15.1 innings and an ERA of 2.35. Diamond finished the 2004 season as a member of the Clinton Lumberjacks, the Low-A Affiliate of the Rangers. While in Clinton, Diamond started seven games and compiled a 1-0 record and a 2.05 ERA. He struck out 68 in 46.0 innings in his initial campaign and was quickly considered a major prospect in the Rangers organization.

To start 2005, Diamond was promoted to Bakersfield (High-A Affiliate) of the California League. It was in 2005 that I was in the front office of the Bakersfield Blaze, but more about that later. In only 14 starts, Diamond was 8-0 with a 1.99 ERA and was the most dominant pitcher in the league to the point he was promoted to Double-A Frisco. After a record of 5-4 in Frisco, Diamond was named Texas Rangers Nolan Ryan Pitcher of the Year. At the end of that season, he was ranked the third best prospect in the Rangers farm system, and number four overall in the Texas League (Double-A).

Diamond had a relatively successful season in 2006, with a 12-5 record but something seemed amiss. His nearly pinpoint control seemed to be lost at times. While striking out 145 in 129.1 innings, he also walked 78. And in 2007, it was discovered that the elbow soreness experienced by Diamond was a torn elbow ligament. To correct this problem, Diamond underwent Tommy John Surgery.

Diamond struggled through parts of 2008 and 2009 and was designated for assignment by the Rangers and was acquired by the Chicago Cubs. Twenty days later, Diamond was designated for assignment once again but did resign for the 2010 season.

He was assigned to the Iowa Cubs, the Triple-A Affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. According to the Iowa Cubs website (found here), Diamond has started five times, with a 1-0 record and an ERA of 1.67. He has pitched at least 5 innings in each game, never giving up more than four hits and opposing hitters are batting .179 against him.

I met Thomas during the 2005 season in Bakersfield, California. I was a member of the front office and Thomas was embarking on an amazing season for Bakersfield and Frisco. That was a roster, looking back that featured many players who reached the Major Leagues. Current Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks pitched in ten games in Bakersfield as a twenty year old. He and Thomas were called the “Young Guns” and were featured throughout their time in Bakersfield. To date, Danks has a 34-33 career record and is a mainstay in the White Sox rotation. Also in the starting rotation for a part of the season was Edinson (then Edison) Volquez. Volquez was promoted after eleven games and even pitched for the Rangers in 2005. Since that time, Volquez was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Josh Hamilton and even pitched for the National League in the 2008 All-Star Game. Volquez had Tommy John Surgery in 2009 and is currently on a 50 game suspension for Performance Enhancing Drugs. (Volquez has publicly stated that the failed test is due to fertility medication he was taking to assist he and his wife in starting a family.) Also spending time on the pitching staff was Jesse Chavez (97 career games for the Braves and Pirates), C.J. Wilson (14-21 career record with 52 saves for the Rangers) and Scott Feldman (25-24 career record for the Rangers, including 17-8 in 2009). If only that pitching staff stayed together for all of 2005, a championship would have been won in Bakersfield.

Thomas was the outgoing one. He was always willing to talk to the fans, sign autographs, pose for pictures and be what a minor league player should be…there for the fans while gaining experience and learning his craft. However, what struck me about Thomas was his humility although his exceptional skill, quietness even though he had a large 6’3″ stature and his southern personality. He often spoke of home, his family and even spoke at times about “what if I don’t succeed in baseball”. We spent many hours talking about a variety of different topics and I was so proud to see his promoted to Frisco and I have been following his career since.

I recently reached out to Thomas to ask him a few questions about his life and baseball and he was more than gracious to answer me (on a morning of his fourth start of the 2010 season, no less).

Question How did you find out that you were selected as the #10 overall selection of the 2004 Major League Baseball Draft by the Texas Rangers?

Thomas Diamond My agent called me the morning of the draft and said that I was going to be drafted at 9 by Colorado or at 10 by the Rangers.

Note – The Colorado Rockies chose Shortstop Christopher Nelson from Redan High School of Stone Mountain, Georgia. I could not find any professional baseball records for Christopher Nelson.

Question Before the draft, what was your “A-Ha” moment when you realized that you had exceptional pitching talent?

Thomas Diamond I would have to say the winter of my sophomore year in high school. I was at a Tulane baseball camp and was throwing better than some seniors that were there.

Question You went quickly through Spokane, Clinton and Bakersfield on your way to Frisco. What are a couple of the memories you have with those teams that you played with?

Thomas Diamond This is a tough one. I would have to say the best one would be my first professional outing in Spokane. I was extremely nervous, but once I started I settled in and saw that the hitters were no different than any other hitters. Short season layers have high school and college drafted players usually. They were just the best at those levels.

Note – Thomas made his professional debut on July 6 against the Yakima Bears and recorded 5 strikeouts in 2.0 shutout innings.

Question You played alongside and against some up and coming stars in the game today. Who of those players did you just know “had it”?
Thomas Diamond – I will have to say my teammates (Edinson) Volquez and (John) Danks. Those guys have great stuff, and they always have. Every team that I was on with them was great. It was fun to watch them pitch on my days off.

Note – Traditionally, in Minor League Baseball, the remainder of the starting rotation not pitching that night sits in the stands charting pitches, hits, speeds of pitches and other information requested by the Major League franchise.

Question You won the Texas Rangers Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2005. Is winning an award like that from your organization as cool as it sounds?

Thomas Diamond Winning an award with the name Nolan Ryan on it is awesome. He was such a dominating pitcher, and it was a great honor to win the award named after him.

Question Any pitchers or players from the Rangers take you under their wing when you were younger and try to help you grow as a player.

Thomas Diamond During my first spring it was Kenny Rogers. Then, Kevin Millwood was there. Both guys talked to me about work ethic and consistency. Watching Kenny take ground balls was amazing. He was an incredible fielder at his position, which a lot of pitchers tend to take a little for granted.

Question You are from New Orleans. You left baseball after Katrina to go home and help out. What are your lasting memories of those days/weeks/months and did it change you as a baseball player?

Thomas Diamond I remember the destruction. It seemed like everywhere you looked there was someone needing your help. Whether it was with food, clothing, or help rebuilding. That disaster made we look at the big picture a lot more. There is more to life than the game that I play for a living. I had friends that didn’t know if relatives were even still alive. It really made me think about what was really important in life.

Note – After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Diamond returned home as soon as he could while missing the end of the 2005 baseball season to do so. He had family and friends affected by Katrina although none lost their life.

Question You lost the entire 2007 season to injury (Tommy John Surgery). To those that know the name and know what the surgery is. Tell us about the recovery from the surgery mentally and physically. And, in the years since has it changed you as a pitcher?

Thomas Diamond Rehab from TJ is extremely tedious. It is all about getting range of motion back and strengthening the new ligament and the rest of your arm again. The physical side of rehab is over well before the mental side is over. Mentally knowing that you can throw without injuring yourself again is the last hurdle. Once that is done you don’t even think about it anymore.

Question The Rangers designated you for assignment last September. Were there doubts or did you know that you still had what it takes to continue and compete.

Thomas Diamond There were never any doubts. I knew that I could still compete and pitch. When the Cubs picked me up I wanted to show them those things.

Question What are your goals for 2010?

Thomas Diamond My goals this is to be more consistent. I would love to be in the big leagues just like everyone else, but I feel by being consistent it will show people that I have what it takes to pitch in the big leagues.

Note – As stated earlier, Diamond has pitched five games in 2010, with a 1-0 record, a 1.67 ERA and with no opponent getting more than four hits off of him. Take a look at this news segment about Thomas.

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