I was able to watch Texas Rangers right-handed starter Jake Thompson in the recent SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Target Field in Minneapolis. In that game he worked two thirds of an inning for the United States team. He struck out both batters he faced from the World Team, the Tigers' Steven Moya, and the Astros' Domingo Santana. Thompson was the winning pitcher in the game.
The Detroit Tigers selected Thompson in the second round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. He was their first selection that year, as they had forfeited their first-round pick for signing Prince Fielder.
At Rockwall-Heath (Texas) High School, Thompson was a dominant starter with a 12-1 record and 0.73 ERA in his senior year. He had 165 strikeouts in 95 2/3 innings pitched. He also played both corner infield positions, hitting a whopping .419 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs. The Tigers, however, selected him as a pitcher.
Big, strong and athletic at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Thompson had considered attending Texas Christian University before signing with Detroit.
As this season progressed, the Tigers began searching for additional help for their bullpen. In late July, they decided to part with two promising prospect pitchers in right-handed reliever Corey Knebel and Thompson to obtain reliever Joakim Soria from the Rangers. The Tigers had to pay a steep price to shore up the back end of their bullpen. Both Knebel and Thompson add much-needed depth to the Rangers organization while Soria helps solve a current need for Detroit.
Thompson left the Tigers organization having pitched parts of two seasons and throwing 205 2/3 innings. He appeared in 42 games, starting 41 of them. He threw to a very fine 2.93 composite ERA with 208 strikeouts and 71 walks. He had a WHIP of 1.21. He won 11 games and lost nine. He was assigned to Double-A Erie in the Eastern League at the time of the trade.
Thompson is No. 6 on the Rangers' Top 20 Prospects list.
Thompson generally uses both two-seam and four-seam fastballs that sit between 90-93 mph to set up a wicked slider at 84 to 85 mph. The fastballs have excellent late life, but it's the slider that Thompson uses often as his put away "finishing" pitch. He also throws a curveball and a changeup. But the fastball and slider form the foundation of his repertoire. He can generally throw both of his two main pitches for strikes, using them in combination roughly three-quarters of the time. He induces ground balls with the sink on his fastball and can use that pitch to end an inning with a double play or to get out of a jam. Considerable upside remains for Thompson if he can improve his command, control and consistency. Repeating his delivery will be important in his development.
Thompson does an excellent job of keeping the ball down in the zone and then elevating his fastball in the eyes of the hitter. That's a difficult pitch for even the most seasoned batter to hit. The pitch is easy to see, but because of high velocity, it is difficult to make contact. He induces lots of swings and misses on high-velocity pitches in the hitter's eyes.
Thompson's size allows him to pitch downhill to the hitter, changing the balance of the hitter from his fastball to his secondary pitches.
Thompson has the type of strength and physical presence that will allow him to work deep in games without wearing down. Thompson is coming home to pitch in Texas. In the Rangers organization he will be pitching in familiar Texas weather where he is used to the heat and summer humidity. He has begun the Rangers portion of his career pitching for the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders in the Texas League.
Thompson projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. While he is making tremendous progress in his career, he is still only 20 years old. Working on consistently commanding his repertoire and refining his changeup, Thompson has more development ahead before he can be considered a finished pitcher ready to face Major League hitters.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.