By The Baseball Beginnings Guy
August 25, 2010
I was just strolling through the visiting locker room at Angel Stadium when the Tampa Bay Rays were in town this week. I had a nice long look at the pitchers, and most of the time, I had a kink in my neck looking skyward. For a second there, I wasn’t sure if I was in the NBA. I’ve been in an NBA locker room a handful of times in my career, but I know my way around a big league locker room. And I wouldn’t have to be as sharp of a baseball thinker as I am to realize that the Rays like their pitchers to physically profile to be taller than the trees.
Up in the paper mill towns where the New York-Penn League plays is where former Long Beach State right-hander Jake Thompson is getting his feet wet in pro ball. I always liked Thompson, for two reasons: big arm, big competitor. He was just a name on a list in a lot of the pre-draft stuff, and to be honest, Beginnings liked him a lot more than most.
West Coast bias? Um, no. Power arm bias, with a hard and nasty slider, better pitch-ability than he got credit for, and a legendary streak as a 50-50 ticket seller back in Chatham. We had a look at him last week in short-A.
In this look, Thompson looks exactly like the guy I last saw in the spring at Blair against Cal State Fullerton. It’ll be awhile before he gets to headhunt Christian Colon again, but in the meantime, he was 94-98 on the house gun. I tend to think the house gun was a hand-me-down from the local circus, but I can buy Thompson touching 98. He won’t command there – he will at 94. The key for him will be to continue improving his body condition. I still believe Thompson needs better flexibility out of his mid-section, not much, but just enough to help his arm out. This will enhance stamina and durability, and ultimately, consistency, and he’s got the arm power to be able to be 94 into the ninth inning regularly at the big league level.
He’s a tall guy, so he’ll fit in among the forest, and he’ll take the slider and cut some wood. Here, the slider was 90-91, which is extremely hard, and sometimes might have been his two-seam fastball velocity. In pro ball, you can expect Thompson’s slider to become a more visible part of his arsenal. In college, he would often tell you he was pitching to the program, favoring the fastball to build some of the stamina and durability.
In the coming years, I’d rather quit baseball than see Thompson become a closer. This guy is made for Tampa as a frontline horse, which is what I said back when I went to see him on a sleepy Fall Friday night in 2009. Yes, I traded high school football to go scout a future horse. I am a wise trader. The next time I see him on a Friday night, here’s what I’m looking for: continued stamina and power with fastball command maintained late into the game. I’d like the slider consistent throughout and a better feel on a change-up than I saw in college.
I don’t think it’s going to be very long before those marks on my checklist start showing up. Thompson is an old-school innings eating fire-snorting horse. He’ll fit right in among the trees.