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Updated: Oct 14, 2021

In today's edition of players nobody is talking about, consider Ka'ai Tom. Nicknamed "Blaze," Tom was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 5th round of the 2015 draft. He was never a top prospect, either in general or within the Cleveland Indians organization. I looked back at the Fangraphs system rankings for Cleveland from 2016 onward and Tom's name does not appear on a single organizational list. The best I could find was this blurb from Chris Mitchell in 2015 (Potentially Valuable Hitters Taken in Rounds Two to Eight):

Ka’ai Tom, CF, Cleveland Indians Draft Round: 5th KATOH Projection: 1.5 WAR
I’m not really sure how to pronounce Ka’ai Tom’s first name, but I am sure that he destroyed SEC pitching this year. The 5-foot-9 Hawaiian hit .375/.443/.528 at the University of Kentucky. His .375 average was second only to the one produced by Andrew Benintendi, who was drafted seventh overall. Tom posted a .153 ISO, which is to say he didn’t hit for very much power. However, of the extra bases he did hit, many of them were doubles, which I found to be strong predictors of big-league success in my KATOH work. It’s also encouraging that he swiped 15 bags in his 55 games.

Blaze Tom was a pretty good college hitter. And though he never impressed any prospect list makers, he posted decent lines throughout his minor league career. Consistent double-digit walk rates and acceptable strikeout rates made him a reliable on-base guy. He has always hit the ball to all fields and he has always had a nice groundball/flyball split, generally staying under 40% in both categories and consistently hitting roughly 23% line drives. He has also been an above average hitter, per wRC+, at every single stop along six levels of the minor leagues.

Early on, and unrelated to his nickname, it looked as though speed was the fantasy asset with the most potential for Blaze Tom. To be sure, his stolen base totals were nothing to celebrate, but they were there. 14 steals at A-, 23 at A+, and 13 at AA.

More intriguing though was the developing power. Tom started posting double-digit home runs with 10 in 529 plate appearances at A+ (2017), then 12 in fewer plate appearances (484) at AA (2018), and then 14 in even fewer plate appearances (343) in a second turn at AA (2019). After a promotion to AAA in 2019, he hit another 9 homeruns there (211 plate appearances). This gradual power growth is reflected in his HR/FB rate, which started at 3.9% in A- (2015) and increased every year thereafter.

It was in 2019 that I noticed Ka'ai Tom on the waiver wire in an Ottoneu league. I had never heard of him, but there he was: An interesting power/speed prospect in the middle of a good season across two levels of the high minors.

I stashed Blaze Tom on a few deep rosters towards the end of 2019. I also drafted him in the final rounds of several 50-round draft-and-hold leagues in 2020. Surely, I thought, this guy would get a shot in 2020. The Cleveland outfield was even worse a year ago than it is now (Respect to Eddie Rosario). Wrong. Despite a total dumpster fire in the outfield throughout 2020, Tom never got the call.

Enter the Rule 5 Draft and the Oakland Athletics.

Not only did Cleveland not see fit to try something, anything, in their outfield in 2020, they chose not to protect Ka'ai Tom from the Rule 5 draft in December. Seeing his potential, the Oakland Athletics had room on their 40-man roster and selected Tom as one of the two picks they made in the Rule 5. Ka'ai Tom is now a member of the Oakland Athletics and he must remain on the team's 26-man roster throughout 2021 or be offered back to Cleveland. Tom will finally get a shot in the majors.

In a January 15 post on Armchair Roto, I noted that I had already drafted Ka'ai Tom in four NFBC Draft Champions leagues. Not wanting too many eggs in one basket, I've done several drafts since that date and not acquired any further shares.

However, news yesterday has once again piqued my interest. The Oakland Athletics traded their primary designated hitter, Khris Davis, to Texas in exchange for Elvis Andrus. Tom is going to play either in the outfield or as the designated hitter. Before the trade, I projected 210 plate appearances for Ka'ai Tom with the hope that he would hit his way into 400. With the trade, I'm going to bump him up to 300 plate appearances and hope he can hit his way into 550.

Tom's current ADP in NFBC Draft Champions leagues is 750, which is to say there really isn't an "average" for his draft position. Only four teams have drafted him since January 1, but he is generally going undrafted. If you want a good dart throw that nobody else is taking in the final rounds of a Draft Champions, you can do a lot worse than Blaze Tom.


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