Name: Taylor Thompson
Height/Weight: 6’5’’, 225
How Acquired: Claimed off waivers from CHI in November
Looking for low-cost bullpen depth, the Oakland A’s grabbed towering right-hander Taylor Thompson off of waivers from the Chicago White Sox in early November. Thompson made his major league debut with Chicago last season and is looking to establish himself as a big leaguer in 2015.
Thompson took the road-less-traveled on his way to the big leagues. A high school standout in Alabama, Thompson went to Auburn University. He pitched for the Tigers for three seasons. On the older side when he enrolled at AU, Thompson was eligible for the draft as a sophomore, and the Chicago White Sox selected him in the 25th round in 2008. He chose to return to Auburn for his junior season, but he struggled that year, posting a 9.00 ERA in 30 innings. Thompson’s draft stock fell, but the White Sox grabbed him in the 44th round and this time he signed.
Although Thompson was picked towards the back of the 2009 draft, he was far from a raw prospect heading into the pros. Thompson struggled with his command at Auburn, but he had stretches of pitching well in the tough SEC and showed good arm strength. The White Sox sent him to the Rookie-level Appalachian League to begin his career, and he had a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings. Thompson walked 10, but he struck-out 17. The White Sox had Thompson fill in briefly at the Triple-A level that season as well, and he tossed four scoreless innings, although he walked four.
Thompson began the 2010 season at extended spring training. He appeared in only 22 regular season games in 2010, 18 of them for Low-A Kanaapolis of the South Atlantic League. He pitched well, posting a 2.02 ERA and a 39:14 K:BB in 35.2 innings.
Thompson would spend nearly all of the 2011 and 2012 seasons with High-A Winston-Salem. In 2011, he had a 2.52 ERA in 53.2 innings. He struck-out 51 and walked 26. Despite those numbers, Thompson returned to High-A in 2012.
Although the 2012 season got off to a poor start, it ended up being an important year in the right-hander’s career. He started the season on the disabled list and then landed back on the DL in May with a right triceps strain. He dominated for the Dash during the second half of the year, helping them into the post-season. Thompson finished the 2012 regular season with a 2.44 ERA and a 57:13 K:BB in 44.1 innings. His ERA during the second half of that season was 0.55 and he had a 44:6 K:BB.
That performance put Thompson on the White Sox’s radar, and he was sent to the Arizona Fall League that off-season. He appeared in 10 AFL games, and allowed five runs in 13.1 innings. He struck-out 10, walked four and didn’t allow a homerun.
In 2013, Thompson finally reached Double-A. He breezed through Double-A, earning All-Star honors. He had a 2.15 ERA and was a perfect 12-for-12 in save opportunities for the Birmingham Barons. He struck-out 46 and walked 13 in 50.1 innings. That earned Thompson a mid-season promotion to Triple-A, where he struggled for the first time in his minor league career. In 16 innings, he had a 7.88 ERA, although he struck-out 16 and walked only three.
This year, Thompson returned to Triple-A to start the season. He continued to post strong strike-out-to-walk rates and his ERA improved considerably. Overall, Thompson had a 2.14 ERA in 59 innings for Triple-A Charlotte. He struck-out 68 and walked 29. In late July, Thompson received a call-up to the big leagues. He appeared in five games with the White Sox, allowing six runs in 5.1 innings. Thompson was sent back to Triple-A in early August and wasn’t given a September call-up.
As a late-round draft pick, Thompson has had to fight to be noticed throughout his minor league career. Injuries early in his career helped stall his progress, but he has proven he is more than organizational filler the past three seasons. A groundball pitcher for most of his career, Thompson has always benefited from a low BABIP. He has also improved his command considerably over the past three seasons and has added more swing-and-miss to his game. Thompson has allowed just eight homeruns in 279 minor league innings and minor league batters have hit just .209 against him.
Thompson is a three-pitch pitcher: fastball, slider and a split-finger. His fastball generally sits in the 89-92 MPH range and he gets a lot of sink on the pitch. His slider is his best secondary pitch and ranges from 80-83 MPH. Thompson added the splitter in recent years and that has been an effective off-speed pitch for him.
Because Thompson was already 22 when he signed with the White Sox, he has always been old for his levels. He will turn 28 during the 2015 season. However, Thompson has multiple option years remaining and six years of team control, so if he sticks with the A’s, he will be a valuable asset as an effective, cost-controlled reliever. Current A’s reliever Dan Otero was 28 when he debuted with the A’s and has developed into one of the A’s most valuable relievers. Like Otero, Thompson is a pitcher who can come in and get a groundball. Also like Otero, he isn’t likely to walk many batters.