Once a Detroit Tigers prospect, Jake Thompson already feels like a well-traveled MLB veteran. He has spent time in four different organizations already in his career, the latest a stint with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew designated Thompson for assignment on Friday following trades for pitcher Gio Gonzalez and outfielder Curtis Granderson. Once again, Thompson is looking for a new home.
But a grizzled veteran he is not. Still only 24, Thompson has just 116 1⁄3 major league innings under his belt, all with the Philadelphia Phillies. Those innings haven’t gone so well — he has a 4.87 ERA and 5.80 FIP, mostly as a starter — but the Tigers liked him enough to draft him in the second round back in 2012. He was once a top-100 prospect, and can still reach 95 miles per hour on the radar gun.
Should the Tigers go after him?
Hey, it might be a good idea...
As mentioned, Thompson as the pedigree of a high draft pick. He wasn’t your typical second round pick, taken 91st overall, but was still well-regarded as a prep arm out of Texas. His early days with the Tigers went well, and he had reached Double-A Erie in his age-20 season before the Tigers flipped him to the Texas Rangers. Detroit had a different organizational philosophy back then under Dave Dombrowski, but much of the front office is still the same; it feels like a good fit.
Plus, the Tigers have a bit more roster flexibility than they did when Thompson was last available a few weeks ago. Their 40-man roster is full, but they have a couple of players in Artie Lewicki and John Hicks that can be moved to the 60-day disabled list. We are clamoring for the team to call up players like Christin Stewart and Matt Hall to fill those spots in September, but giving Thompson an extended look is another way to experiment over the final month of the season.
And while Thompson’s numbers haven’t been great over the past few years, he’s the rare former top prospect who hasn’t suffered any injuries. He has logged at least 118 innings in each of the past three seasons, and is hovering close to 80 this year only because he has been shifted to bullpen duty. He hasn’t lost any fastball velocity, and still sits in the 91-93 mile per hour range in most outings.
...but it also might not work
If there’s a downside to Thompson staying so healthy over the past few years, it’s that we have gotten an extended look at his potential as a major league pitcher. He already has 116 1⁄3 frames under his belt in the majors, and 300 more at Triple-A. The numbers just haven’t been there, and it’s hard to trust the Tigers brass to get him turned around. He’s still only 24, but one imagines we would have seen more flashes of upside by this point. His 3.90 ERA at Triple-A isn’t bad, but the peripherals aren’t very enticing.
Even the transition to the bullpen hasn’t gone so well. He has upped his strikeout rate as a reliever, but this has come at the expense of his command. Thompson has walked 29 batters in just 52 1⁄3 minor league innings this year, and another 11 in 16 1⁄3 big league frames. Not every failed starter is going to turn into Wade Davis, but one might have expected a bit more from someone like Thompson in that role.
In the end, I’m still torn
It might work, it might not. Thompson could be worth a September audition, but so could someone in the minors like Hall, who the organization seems to be torn on. Spencer Turnbull is another arm who might benefit from some big league innings, and he’s already on the 40-man roster.
What do you think?