connor-thomas-st-louis-cardinals-052522

Apr 1, 2022; Jupiter, Florida, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Connor Thomas (86) delivers a pitch in the first inning of the spring training game against the New York Mets at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect Connor Thomas had a breakout performance in the Arizona Fall League this year — one so impressive that he was named the league's Pitcher of the Year on Saturday.

The 24-year-old left-hander started six games for the Salt River Rafters this fall, posting a 1.75 ERA with a .224 opponent batting average, 34 strikeouts and just five walks in 25.2 innings. The 2019 fifth-round pick out of Georgia Tech was also selected to start for the National League in the AFL's Fall Stars Game and threw a perfect first inning.

It was important for Thomas to end the year on a positive note in the AFL after he endured some struggles during his first full season at the Triple-A level. The 5-foot-11, 173-pound lefty, ranked 24th among Cardinals prospects by MLB Pipeline, threw for a 5.47 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP in 135 Triple-A innings this year.

Thomas' strong performance in the AFL increases the odds that he'll be added to the Cardinals' 40-man roster later this month in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Offseason moves could change things, but for now Thomas figures to join Gordon Graceffo, Dakota Hudson, Matthew Liberatore, Andre Pallante and Jake Woodford as depth options behind the Cardinals' projected starting five of Jack Flaherty, Steven Matz, Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery and Adam Wainwright in 2023.