He’s a few years away, but one Tiger pitching prospect is starting to open a lot of eyes. The prospect I am talking about is none other than current West Michigan Whitecap Jake Thompson. If you read Jordan’s scouting report from West Michigan, you will notice that he wrote a blurp on him in his scouting notes. For the most part, this report reinforces his blurp.
Thompson is a 19 year old right hander out of Heath, Texas and like most Texas pitchers, he is a big bodied guy with a big arm. Drafted in the second round at pick #91, he was the Tigers first pick in the 2012 draft as Detroit forfeited their first round pick due to the free agent acquisition of Prince Fielder. Signing for just over $500,000 according to Baseball America, Thompson chose to sign over a commitment to TCU and currently ranks #6 according to our own Tiger Prospect Report midseason rankings. I have had a chance to see Thompson’s last two starts and thankfully (in my mind at least) they were against the same team so I could see how both sides adjusted. Here are my observations.
Thompson features a fastball, slider, change up and a developing curve ball. His fastball is something that he typically works in the 90-92 mph range but he can add 1 to 2 mph on it when he needs to. From what I can tell, he tends to get good arm side run and is a potential plus pitch.
What Thompson is best known for however is his slider. The first time I saw him throw, he did not have command of his slider and it hurt him. The second time I saw him, I was able to see what has made everyone drool. The slider had good sharp bite and he was able to throw it in the low to mid 80’s. He worked off his fastball more than he did the first time and the Lansing hitters were not able to sit on his breaking ball the way they had in the initial meeting I had observed which made the slider all the more effective.
In conversation with West Michigan pitching coach Mike Henneman, he was been with Jake Thompson since the age of 12. He stated that his slider has always been a nasty pitch.
Thompson works with a good downward plane and as he develops, I anticipate his fastball velocity will increase a little bit and his slider to become even more nasty. The fact that his slider is so good could also help him ultimately improve his curveball and the potential is there for it to develop an MLB average to a slightly above average pitch.
What needs development
The first thing and the most important thing that Thompson needs to work on is fastball command. He has a tendency to fall in love with his breaking pitches and that was quite evident in my first observation of him. Lansing hitters would routinely lay off of his fastball and wait on his breaking stuff. When he threw it, they did not miss it and they were able to knock him out after only 4.2 innings giving up 5 runs with 5 walks and only striking out three.
My second observation was much better of Thompson as he went 5.0 IP, allowing 1 run on three hits while striking out 8 but he did still walk three over that time frame and a big part of that was lack of fastball command.
The other alarming thing that I have noticed is his time to the plate out of the stretch. I have timed Thompson’s time to home out of the stretch consistently at 1.6 seconds and that is too slow. Tim Raines, who serves as a minor league base running instructor for the Blue Jays happened to be in town during my first observation of Jake and I was able to talk with Mr. Raines for roughly 45 minutes prior to the game (I really need to transcribe the talk that me and a couple other reporters had with him, it was phenomenal). One thing that Raines indicated that he has stressed to his top of the order guys in the Toronto system is to pay attention to the times to the plate. He stated that if a guy is 1.2 to 1.3 to the plate, he tells guys basically to stay put. If they are 1.4 or greater though, he tells them to run at will. Lansing was able to do this during my first observation as they swiped five bases on Thompson. Thompson was able to keep the top of the order guys for Lansing off the base paths during my second view of him, which obviously is the best way to keep guys from stealing on you.
Thompson obviously is going to go one of two ways, he is either going to be a reliever or a starter (duh). The path he follows will depend heavily on the development of that all important third pitch. His change up shows flashes of being Major League average as does his curve ball. Couple that with a projected plus fastball with a plus slider and he is most likely a #3 or a #4 starter. If he is not able to develop a third pitch, he will most likely become a back end of the bullpen guy. Only time will tell.
The grades of his pitches below are my opinion only, but I did take some scout feedback that was forwarded to me into consideration while writing this.
Fastball: Project a future 55 grade
Slider: Project a future 60-65 grade
Curveball: Project a future 40-45 grade
Change up: Project a future 45-50 grade