Former Youngstown State baseball player Justin Thomas had a solid spring and earned a spot in the bullpen for the Boston Red Sox as they opened the 2012 Major League Baseball season on Thursday at Detroit.
Two other former Penguin pitchers in the professional ranks, Eric Marzec and Phil Klein, were assigned to Class A teams. Marzec will start 2012 pitching for Class A Advanced Brevard County in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Klein will pitch for Class A Hickory in the Texas Rangers organization.
Thomas spent the previous two seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and last pitched in the Majors in 2010. Last year, he went 8-2 with a 3.89 ERA in 63 appearances for Triple A Indianapolis.
In his three years at YSU, Thomas won 19 games in leading the Penguins to a string of successful seasons. He helped YSU to 27 wins as a freshman, and he was the staff ace on the 2004 Horizon League Championship squad and the 2005 team that won 29 games. As a junior in 2005, he was named the Horizon League Pitcher of the Year after posting a 7-5 record with a 3.42 ERA and a career-high 88 strikeouts.
Marzec will start his second full season in the minor leagues, and most of 2011 was spent at Class A Wisconsin. He moved up to Brevard County later in the campaign and even pitched three scoreless innings at the Triple A level. In his three combined stops, Marzec was 4-2 with a 1.69 ERA in 42 appearances in 2011.
Marzec was named Second-Team All-Horizon League in each of his final three seasons at YSU. A solid hitter and outfielder, he flourished as a power arm out of the bullpen. His low-90s fastball and hard slider earned him the title Top Professional Prospect in the Horizon League by Baseball America prior to his senior year. As a senior, Marzec went 3-3 with five saves and a 3.92 ERA in 20 appearances, 18 of which came out of the bullpen. He struck out 56 batters in 39 innings for an average of 12.9 per nine innings.
Klein pitched in three games in the Arizona League before being promoted to Short Season Class A Spokane last year. In the two combined stops, the 6-foot-7 right-hander went 1-2 with a 3.98 ERA in 20 1-3 innings. He struck out 31 batters for a very impressive 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
While at YSU, Klein was a First-Team All-Horizon League Selection in 2009 and a second-team pick in 2011. As a senior in 2011, he led the Horizon league with 105 strikeouts while setting a school record by making 15 starts. He was 5-5 with a 3.61 ERA, and his 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings led all conference starters. Klein was 2-2 with a 2.61 ERA in league affairs, and his ERA was 2.26 over his final 12 starts.