The Philadelphia Phillies will debut yet another rookie starting pitcher on Saturday, this time their top ranked hurling prospect.
When the Phillies opted to keep Jeremy Hellickson on the team rather than trade him at last Monday’s deadline, it seemed as if the pitching rotation would remain without their best pitching prospect, righty Jake Thompson, for at least a couple more weeks.
Things changed when Aaron Nola went to the disabled list Wednesday with a strained right elbow retroactive to July 29. Thompson will take his place – hopefully for the long-term – as he will start Saturday’s game against the Padres for the Phillies.
Matt Klentak probably already knew his plan with Thompson when the Phillies general manager said this to Meghan Montemurro of the News Journal:
This is the third organization Thompson is a part of, as he was previously included in both the Joakim Soria deal of 2014 between Detroit and Texas, and the Cole Hamels trade in 2015 between the Rangers and Phillies.
Thompson impressed in his debut within the organization, holding a 1.80 ERA over 45 innings with the AA Reading Fightin’ Phils to end the season. He made three impressive starts – one of which was a complete-game shutout – to help Reading reach the Eastern League finals a year ago.
Thompson has followed up his impressive Phillies organizational debut to end the 2015 year with a solid 2016 campaign with the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The right-hander from Texas has made 21 starts with the IronPigs, hurling 129.2 innings while posting a 2.50 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.
A former 2nd round pick of the Tigers back in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft, the now 22-year old Thompson has been electric in the last two months, holding opposing hitters to just a .200 batting average and walking just 2.18 batters per nine innings.
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Thompson commands a four-pitch mix, with his best pitch easily being his low-90s two-seam fastball. Like fellow pitching prospect Zach Eflin, Thompson doesn’t dominate hitters by striking them out; instead he uses his sinking fastball to induce groundouts and weak contact.
The right-hander also features two breaking pitches in his slider and curveball, each of which can be his best off-speed offering depending on the outing. Thompson also mixes in a changeup, although it lags behind his other pitches.
Thompson’s biggest struggle as a prospect is keeping his delivery consistent. He is aggressive on the mound, but can leave pitches up in the zone if he doesn’t stay over the ball.
On the other hand, “When he stays on top of the ball, his arm action shows more effort, but his stuff plays up almost a full grade” according to Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs. Farnsworth notes that if Thompson were to “loosen up his core“, it could help him find a balance between better pitches and less strain on his arm.
Thompson has the arsenal of a back-end workhorse and the upside of a mid-rotation starter, and possibly even a #2 in a contending rotation in his prime.
However, durability concerns from his delivery prompts some to think he would be better out of the bullpen. There he could focus on his curve and slider as well as a potential uptick in velocity. The Phillies will leave him in the rotation for at least the next couple of years to see exactly what they have.
He will face a trade-depleted Padres lineup, which should help ease him into his big league career. With 52 games left in the season and the Phillies falling farther and farther from playoff contention, we will hopefully get to see other talented prospects like Thompson on the big league roster in the coming weeks.