Well-Traveled Thompson Happy to Settle in with Frisco
FRISCO, Texas---Usually calling someone a well-traveled player in any sport means that they are a veteran who has changed teams on more than a few occasions throughout their career. But in Jake Thompson's case, such a moniker is one that can be taken quite literally.
That's because Thompson, 20, the Rockwall native who the Texas Rangers acquired in the deal that sent closer Joakim Soria to the Detroit Tigers prior to the MLB Trade Deadline, literally has been well traveled, logging just over 2,400 miles on the road in two separate trips across the country.
His baseball odyssey began on July 13 when he was part of the U.S. contingent at the 2014 Futures Game, a contest where eventual Frisco teammate Joey Gallo belted a game-winning home run as the U.S. squad won 3-2.
Thompson was the pitcher of record when Gallo hit that blast and ended up getting credited with the victory.
After that experience, he flew back to Lakeland, Florida, where he was pitching for the Tigers' High Single-A affiliate in the Florida State League, where he was 6-4 with a 3.14 ERA and a WHIP of 1.205 in 16 starts and was an FSL All-Star.
But on July 15, he learned he had been promoted to Double-A Erie, so Thompson hit the road for a two-day drive to Pennsylvania that spanned some 1,143 miles. He made two starts for the Seawolves, going 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA before learning on July 23 he would be on the move again, this time back to his home state to join the Ranger organization.
So, again he hit the road, setting out on a 1,278-mile trek from Erie to Frisco, a trip that like the first one he made by himself.
"I stopped in Nashville. It was long. First day was pretty bad. I got stuck in Kentucky, parked on the highway for about two hours, but second day wasn't too bad," Thompson said of his trek to Frisco.
And now that he's back in the Metroplex, he admits it's pretty great being able to live at home in Rockwall on a more regular basis for the first time in several years, something which has made this already confident young starter even more comfortable in his new surroundings.
"Yeah, it's nice. It's nice to play in front of family and friends. To sleep in my own bed, that's nice," Thompson said.
He grew up a Ranger fan and always dreamed of one day pitching for them or in their organization, but even with that being said, he admits that when he'd heard about the trade, he was a bit taken aback.
"It was a shock at first, but I'm excited to be a part of my hometown team," he said.
And after a month where he's pitched in Lakeland, Minneapolis, Erie and now in Frisco, he admits that coming to Frisco is not only great because he's now so close to home, but also because it's a move that gives him some stability.
"Yeah, I'm happy that I know I'll be here at least for the rest of the month," Thompson said.
To date, he has pitched in three games for the RoughRiders, two of those being starts and the Rockwall native is 1-0 with a 1.84 ERA.
Thompson's last outing was on Saturday when he came out of the bullpen for four innings after Rangers starter Derek Holland made his second rehab start for Frisco, pitching the first three innings.
Out of the pen, Thompson was strong in his four innings of work, allowing three hits and one run while striking out eight and walking three.
Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews has naturally only seen him pitch three times since arriving, but the man some pitchers who have worked with him have dubbed the "mad scientist" likes what he has seen thus far.
"He goes full throttle pretty fast. Everything he does, pretty intense-his side works, his games, his competitiveness. He gets competitive with almost everything that he does that I've seen so far and that's nice in the fact that you don't have to get his attention that he's already raring to go," Andrews said. "So, that's the first thing that I noticed."
Thompson joins a Frisco team that not only won the first half title in the Texas League's South, but also a team that has had its share of talented starters this year, players like Alex Claudio and Luke Jackson, both of whom have been promoted to Triple-A Round Rock of the Pacific Coast League, and a group also including other young talents like Alec Asher, Jerad Eickhoff and Alex Gonzalez.
Naturally, it's a group he's honored to be one of the newest members of.
"Yeah, I knew they had some guys here that were already established and really, really good. (Alex) Gonzalez is nasty. Alec (Asher), his last two starts haven't been what he hoped but I saw his first start, he was great. Claudio got sent to Triple-A and (Jerad) Eickhoff is also really, really good," Thompson said.
As a second-round pick in the 2012 draft, he had spent most of the past three seasons in the Tigers organization and their approach was that they wanted him to throw his sinker a lot so that he could induce a lot of ground balls.
However, Andrews and others in the Ranger organization want to see him do things a bit differently, something Thompson is more than willing to do.
"At least this year, I've used my changeup pretty steadily throughout the year. I think that's one of the things that has made me a little more successful. The Tigers had kind of molded me into being more of a sinkerball, groundball guy. Talking to Jeff (Andrews) and some of the other guys (in the organization), they want me to focus a little bit more on power, using my four-seamer a little more," he said. "That way I'm showing the 93 to 95 more often as opposed to the two-seamer which is more 89 or 90."
The Tigers' thinking was that they didn't care about Thompson getting strikeouts since they only wanted to focus on him throwing the sinker. However, one of the first things Andrews did when his newest starter arrived was tell him that in his humble opinion, his four-seam fastball was a much better pitch than his two-seam and he wanted to see him throw it more.
And Andrews has also told him he doesn't want him throwing the sinker, a pitch he threw well early in the season but when it went away he was trying to force it too much.
"I think it's a good time just to get away from it. It's not like we're getting away from it and he doesn't have anything to back up. I'd like him to get off the two-seamer and focus on his changeup," Andrews said. "If he wants to throw a sinker, throw me a changeup instead. I like his four-seamer a lot. I think when he throws his four-seamer, he uses his arm speed and I think the changeup's good but a little better when he throws his four-seamer. I'd like to try to keep him repeat as many good deliveries as he can."
Thompson has only been working with Andrews for several weeks now, but it's clear just how much the approach and teachings of the ultra-analytical Frisco pitching coach have already resonated with him.
"He's very, very smart. You can tell the wheels are turning up there," Thompson said. "Thing I like about him is he's super laid back. He won't approach you if he doesn't need to approach you. If he doesn't have to say something or try to teach you something, he's going to let you do your own thing, which is something I like."
In a nutshell, Andrews doesn't want to see Thompson's four-seamer become an afterthought because he had been throwing his two-seamer on a much more regular basis, his application of the old "use it or lose it" saying.
And besides his intensity, something else that has stood out about the newest member of what is an already talented Frisco rotation has been just the positive aura that Thompson emits.
"I think he's full of confidence. I think he would be peaceful anywhere. He's just a confident kid. He's a confident, competitive kid. I don't think he sees anything that's in his way, that's an obstacle that he's not going to somehow, some way go over, around, through," Andrews said. "He's going to beat that obstacle. I think that's the confidence and the quiet confidence that he gives off."