Every year, casual baseball fans draw the ire of diehards and scouting types for latching onto specific players before the MLB draft. While few of us (myself included) know anything about these young men before draft day, we form irrational opinions about who our favorite teams should draft and why they were stupid to not take the surefire Hall of Famer that went two picks later.
I’ve found my man crush this year, and his name is Bubba Thompson.
Leslie “Bubba” Thompson is the type of player scouts dream about. He stands a sturdy 6’2 and weighs 180 pounds, and is athletic enough to warrant football scholarship offers from SEC schools. Even Alabama coach Nick Saban showed some passing interest in the three-star quarterback, who runs an estimated 4.45 second 40-yard dash (hint: that’s fast).
However, the McGill-Toolen Catholic (AL) product and Alabama commit has settled on baseball, and for good reason: he’s a likely first round pick when the MLB draft kicks off on June 12.
As mentioned above, Thompson’s biggest strength is his athleticism. Perfect Game clocked him at a 6.35 second 60-yard sprint (hint: that’s fast), while FanGraphs gave his speed a double-plus grade. Multiple outlets have mentioned that his defensive instincts are a bit raw, but pure athleticism like his doesn’t grow on trees. Both his excellent speed and plus arm should turn him into an excellent center fielder in the pro ranks, especially when he starts to focus on baseball full-time.
Tall and lean athletic build, very projectable physically, lots of room to get stronger. 6.35 runner, graceful and easy running gait. very smooth actions in the outfield and should develop into a plus centerfielder with time, has a loose and projectable arm and good accuracy.
That athleticism also translates to his swing, which has drawn mixed (but positive) reviews. Mike Axisa of River Avenue Blues skews towards the optimistic end of the spectrum.
Thompson is a right-handed hitter with bat speed and bat-to-ball skills, and he’s shown promising power potential this spring. He has the potential to go 20-20 with very good center field defense down the line. Despite splitting his time between two sports, Thompson is not as raw as you’d expect. The kid has legitimate five-tool ability.
While others are a bit more guarded, nearly every publication has him listed among their top 25 prospects in this year’s draft. His stock has been rising all spring, too, and swings like this help explain why (h/t Minor League Ball).
Plus, his name is Bubba, an 80-grade baseball name if I’ve ever seen one.
We could go either way with this comparison offered up by Dodger Digest’s Dustin Nosier, but Thompson’s power is a major question mark at present.
He’s not dissimilar to a guy I liked in 2014 in Derek Hill. He’s relatively quiet at the plate, with a slight bat wiggle as he’s waiting for the pitch. His base is a little wide which keeps his stride short. He does a weird toe-tap after his front foot hits the ground. I guess it’s a timing mechanism, but that might have to be jettisoned after he turns pro because it almost looks like he’s lunging toward the ball after his toe-tap. He generates average bat speed and a compact swing that’s geared for line drives. His quick hands and projectable frame means he could add some pop down the road, but he’s not going to be a 55-60 power guy in the pros.
As a raw product, Thompson has a looooong way to go before reaching his lofty potential. His bat speed has drawn mixed reviews, with others labeling it as a strength, but nearly everyone is skeptical about his power development. Both MLB Pipeline and Minor League Ball have noted that it is already improving, though.
Minor League Ball’s John Sickels also has some questions about Thompson’s swing, and whether he will adapt to the advanced pitching he will see in the pro ranks.
There was concerns pre-season about his hitting. While questions about his power potential are easing in his favor, he’ll still have to show he can adapt to higher-level pitching for contact and pitch recognition. There are fewer worries about the bat now, but the issue won’t be completely laid to rest until he gets into pro ball.
If he had no-doubt plus bat speed, this would not be a major concern. However, with some labeling it as merely average, there could be some swing-and-miss to his game that would ding his overall potential.
One word that will be thrown around aplenty when describing Thompson is potential. His raw physical skills warrant a first round selection, but there is still a lot of work to be done before he reaches the major leagues. As with 2014 first round pick Derek Hill, Thompson could be a first-rate center fielder who anchors the leadoff spot for years to come, or an early flameout who can’t quite put it all together. His ample potential will warrant him several opportunities to become a big league player, but teams will truly be taking a risk if they call his name on draft night.