Tommy Thompson is serving his first year in the Baltimore Orioles' organization as the Manager for the high-A Frederick Keys. In 2006, he served as the Manager for of the Great Falls White Sox in the advanced rookie-level Pioneer League. The previous fourteen seasons, he had served as the Chicago White Sox Minor League Catching Coordinator. Recently, I had a chance to catch up with Tommy and discuss some of the top prospects playing for the Frederick Keys.
ITW: Is there a hard pitch count limit per inning for pitchers?
Tommy Thompson: Yeah, there is. It's 30 pitches per inning. And that's for anybody, from a reliever to a starter, from rookie ball up to triple-A. That's to protect their arms. The history of the injuries, in the past, that are documented, show that if a guy throws 30 pitches or more and goes back out, he has a chance to break down.
When you have good arms, and some of these kids that you've got are special, you want to take care of them so that they don't break down. In five days, they'll be back out there and they can go do what they've got to do.
ITW: Jason Berken is a guy who skipped over [low-A] Delmarva and came straight to Frederick after pitching in Aberdeen last year. How do you think he's made the adjustment?
Tommy Thompson: Great. When you pitch at a place like Clemson, a major school- SEC, ACC Big 12, PAC-10, whatever- and have success, you should be able to skip [Delmarva] and come here. You might repeat here twice and come back here next year. But, you know what, his makeup, his stuff- he knows how to pitch. And when you're playing at a baseball powerhouse school, you learn how to pitch quick or you just get beat. He's adjusted to the wood bat, he's adjusted to the level of competition, and he's done a nice job also.
ITW: The rotation here has gotten a lot of praise and Chorye Spoone would be the last guy in that quintet [Brandon Erbe, David Hernandez, Jason Berken, Chorye Spoone]; what are your initial impressions of him?
Tommy Thompson: He's just like the other guys, he's got a good arm. He's got life and movement on the ball, he's got late sink, he's got the action that you can't teach. When you scout and you see that, you know it's special. He's learning how to pitch. All these guys haven't pitched at this level before. This is a very good level of play. Spoone's got three good pitches, from a breaking ball, changeup and a sinker and a four-seam.
The thing about this level right here and this league, more than any other league in A-ball, there are seven other teams. We're playing ‘em now for the third, fourth time. We're going to play them ten to fifteen times. They know what you got and we know what they got. It's now who can make adjustments? The quicker some make adjustments; their stock will rise even more. Some might struggle and that's no failure to them. It's just the toughness of the league and a situation where they see you four, five, six times and they know what you got. And then it's up to momentum versus momentum and may the best man win.
ITW: What's interesting about Chorye [Spoone] is that he has great stuff, no question about it, but it manifests itself in a lot of groundballs, as opposed to strikeouts. What is it about his stuff that makes that happen?
Tommy Thompson: Well, he's got a sinker. Guys that keep the ball down, a sinker guy is a groundball guy. Dave Hernandez is a strikeout guy. Erbe's a strikeout guy. They elevate the ball a little more; with their velocity, it takes off. Spoone's got more natural sink, which has a tendency to get the bats to ground the ball out. Sinker/Slider guys are more groundball guys.
Strikeouts, to me, are good, but early contact on the ground is the best thing in baseball to keep your team in the game and get them to play better behind you. We got all types of pitchers here and they're learning how to pitch, they're learning how to compete. And we have a special staff, like you said, we've got some guys with some special arms.
ITW: Bob McCrory is a guy who's missed some time to injuries, but he was dialing it up to 96, 97 MPH today. How fast do you think he could move?
Tommy Thompson: You know what, I'd love to see him here all year, but when you got a guy throwing like that and he competes… He's got a great breaking ball, he's got a good changeup that people don't see a lot, but he's throwing 95-97 [MPH], he's probably going to put himself in a situation to go to the next level, maybe sooner than other guys.
Bob's a great kid. This is my first year with him. He's had some injuries; we're protecting his arm just as much as the other guys' arms. He's a battler, I just love this kid when you give him the ball because he attacks the hitters and he shows no fear. Some of these guys that you're talking about, that I'm talking to you about, they're going to pitch in the big leagues, hopefully for the Baltimore Orioles, but, if not, they're going to pitch somewhere and some people are going to like what they see out of these guys.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com