Marek Warszawski

By any name, Ricky Tyler Thomas rates as Fresno State ace

Fresno State ace Ricky Tyler Thomas on answering opponents' taunts

Fresno Bee's Marek Warszawski interviews Fresno State junior pitcher Ricky Tyler Thomas before team practice at Pete Beiden Field Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017 in Fresno, Calif.
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Fresno Bee's Marek Warszawski interviews Fresno State junior pitcher Ricky Tyler Thomas before team practice at Pete Beiden Field Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017 in Fresno, Calif.

The first thing you should know about Fresno State left-hander Ricky Tyler Thomas is hardly anyone uses all three names.

Or even the first.

“My mom would call me Tyler and my dad would, too, except when they’d get mad at me,” he says. “Then they’d call me by my full name.”

Thomas’ friends call him Tyler. His teammates generally call him Tyler, or by his surname. Only his teachers – as well as Bulldogs coach Mike Batesole – call him Ricky.

This being baseball, he’s also picked up a few nicknames: Stringbean, Pee Wee and Urkel.

Those sporty eyeglasses Thomas wears have corrective lenses. He’s nearsighted.

Yes, Urkel. Which brings us to the second thing you should know: Those sporty eyeglasses Thomas wears have corrective lenses. He’s nearsighted.

When the San Diego native first started wearing glasses on the mound, as a high school freshman, he’d often get razzed.

“They would talk trash, the other dugout, but it didn’t affect me,” Thomas says. “I still struck ’em out.”

There it is, the third thing you should know about the Bulldogs ace, Team USA standout and No. 44 on Baseball America’s top 100 list of college prospects: He gives off this air of confidence and assurance, nearly-but-not-quite to the point of being cocky.

What’s that word again? Better ask Thomas’ batterymate, catcher Nick Warren.

“He has that swag about him,” Warren says. “He knows he’s going to get the batter out. He knows he’s going to get the shutout inning.”

“Confidence is king, and he has it,” Bulldogs pitching coach Steve Rousey says.

Everything about him is solid in every aspect. His attitude, his command, his composure – everything.

Fresno State catcher Nick Warren, on Ricky Tyler Thomas

What Thomas may lack in size for a top prospect, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder (as listed in the Fresno State media guide) makes up for with an abundance of swag.

Part of it is his stuff. Thomas’ smooth, easy delivery produces consistent 90-mph fastballs, which he’s getting better and better at locating down in the zone. Then there’s his nasty changeup, a true out pitch, that darts several inches away from right-handed hitters.

“It’s got some crazy spin,” Warren says.

Using mainly a fastball and changeup, Thomas went 9-4 with a 2.16 ERA last season while netting All-Mountain West honors. He didn’t just mow down patsies, either. Two of his three complete games came on the road at Texas A&M, which was No. 3 in the country, and the notorious hitters’ haven of New Mexico.

This year Thomas plans to unveil a curveball, a pitch that he spent the offseason developing and refining.

“It’s sharp and has a lot of break,” Warren reports. “Definitely gotten some swings and misses.”

Adding a curveball to his repertoire should make Thomas even more effective against fellow lefties, since the pitch breaks away from their swing, though his pitching coach cautions right-handers won’t be immune.

“It’s going to be a big guessing game for the hitter,” Rousey says. “No one’s going to be able to sit on the changeup.”

44 Ricky Tyler Thomas’ ranking on Baseball America’s list of top 100 college prospects entering the 2017 season

Thomas utilized the curveball last July during his three-country tour with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. Until visiting Taiwan, Japan and Cuba, Thomas had never been outside the country.

The 20-year-old returned not only with new accolades, winning the Dick Case Award given annually to USA Baseball’s top overall player, but also a new appreciation for how baseball is enjoyed in foreign countries.

Seeing cheerleaders at games in Japan was a highlight. As was the experience in baseball-crazy Cuba, where Thomas closed out the collegiate national team’s first-ever series win on Cuban soil with 5⅓ spotless relief innings.

“They take it really serious down there – the fans really get into it,” Thomas says. “That was the first time I’d ever head drums in the stands and people singing.

“It wasn’t really a distraction when I was pitching. But when I wasn’t I’d look up in the stands and see people dancing. It was pretty cool.”

We were facing guys in their 30s and it was kind of overwhelming because they had full beards and I’m still getting facial hair and stuff.

Ricky Tyler Thomas, on his experience with Team USA

After pitching 19 innings for Team USA, on top of the 104 innings he logged last season for the Bulldogs, Thomas didn’t throw as much during fall training and focused on weight training and conditioning.

As a result he feels stronger, which could add extra zip to his fastball. The first test will be Saturday night (weather permitting) in Fresno State’s season opener against visiting Oregon.

“Arm feels juicy, feels fresh,” Thomas says. “Definitely have more endurance.”

Thomas’ focus at present is helping Fresno State repeat as Mountain West champions. This year there’s even more incentive because the regular-season champ gets to host the conference tournament instead of it being held at a predetermined site.

Still, as a draft-eligible junior he’s cognizant of the future. Especially after watching former teammate Jimmy Lambert get drafted in the fifth round by the White Sox last May and finish the summer in Class-A ball.

“It’s a big year, but I’m only thinking about day by day and game by game,” Thomas says. “Just concentrating on team stuff. The future and accolades will come later.”

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a Friday rainout, pushing the opener back to Saturday.

Opening weekend

FRESNO STATE VS. OREGON

  • Schedule: 6:05 p.m. Saturday and Monday, 1:05 p.m. Sunday doubleheader at Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium
  • Radio: KFIG (940 AM)
  • Night to Remember: On Monday evening, the Bulldogs will honor Fresno’s unique role in Japanese-American baseball history by wearing replica jerseys of the 1920s era Fresno Athletic Club and recognize Fresno State baseball and football legend Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama, who turns 87 on Friday. General admission tickets are $5.

FRESNO STATE SCHEDULE

FEBRUARY

17 vs. Oregon, 6:05 p.m.

18 vs. Oregon, 6:05 p.m.

19 vs. Oregon, 1:05 p.m.

20 vs. Oregon, 6:05 p.m.

24 vs. UC Riverside, 6:05 p.m.

25 vs. UC Riverside, 2:05 p.m.

26 vs UC Riverside, 1:05 p.m.

28 vs. Pacific, 6:05 p.m.

MARCH

3 vs. Nevada*, 6:05 p.m.

4 vs. Nevada*, 6:05 p.m.

5 vs. Nevada*, 1:05 p.m.

7 at Pepperdine, 2 p.m.

10 vs. Eastern Michigan, 6:05 p.m.

11 vs. Eastern Michigan, 6:05 p.m.

12 vs. Eastern Michigan, 1:05 p.m.

15 at San Francisco, 3 p.m.

17 at Air Force*, 2 p.m.

18 at Air Force*, Noon

19 at Air Force*, Noon

22 vs. Pepperdine, 6:05 p.m.

24 vs. San Diego State*, 6:05 p.m.

25 vs. San Diego State*, 6:05 p.m.

26 vs. San Diego State*, 1:05 p.m.

28 vs. Cal Poly, 6:05 p.m.

31 at New Mexico*, 5:30 p.m.

APRIL

1 at New Mexico*, 1 p.m.

2 at New Mexico*, Noon

5 at Sacramento State, 6 p.m.

7 at Michigan State, Noon

8 at Michigan State, 10 a.m.

9 at Michigan State, 10 a.m.

11 vs. San Francisco, 6:05 p.m.

13 vs. Air Force*, 6:05 p.m.

14 vs. Air Force*, 6:05 p.m.

15 vs. Air Force*, 2:05 p.m.

19 at Pacific, 6 p.m.

21 at Nevada*, 6 p.m.

22 at Nevada*, 6 p.m.

23 at Nevada*, 1 p.m.

25 at Cal Poly, 6 p.m.

28 vs. San Jose State*, 6:05 p.m.

29 vs. San Jose State*, 1:05 p.m.

30 vs. San Jose State*, 3 p.m.

MAY

3 at UC Riverside, 3 p.m.

5 at UNLV*, 6:05 p.m.

6 at UNLV*, 2:05 p.m.

7 at UNLV*, 1:05 p.m.

9 vs. Sacramento State, 6:05 p.m.

12 vs. New Mexico*, 6:05 p.m.

13 vs. New Mexico*, 6:05 p.m.

14 vs. New Mexico*, 1:05 p.m.

18 at San Diego State*, 6 p.m.

19 at San Diego State*, 6 p.m.

20 at San Diego State*, 1 p.m.

22 vs. Gonzaga, 6:05 p.m.

*Mountain West Conference game

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