This past year marks the sixth with the San Diego Padres organization and many scouts within have always said, "There is more to this guy than he has shown."
It is hard to say a 24 year old pitcher is running out of chances, but Mike Thompson entered the year with a career ERA above 5.00 in the minors. That stat represents the cumulative ERA of five seasons in the system. After getting a spot start in Mobile in 2002, there was talk of sending him up to Double-A to begin his 2003 season. But the Padres brass decided he would do well to repeat Lake Elsinore because of a 5.56 ERA the previous year and his still young age. He brought his ERA down more than a full run with the Storm in 2003 and things were starting to turn around.
When he came to Mobile to stay, Thompson found himself in the bullpen. He spent all of April and most of May coming out of the pen with a 3.09 ERA. The success he had in relief turned into the more familiar starting gig.
"This is the first year I started off in the bullpen — long relief," said Thompson. "I did pretty well. Well enough where our manager Gary Jones would stick me in some tight situations instead of just blowouts. So I got a chance to pitch in some middle relief situations and I really enjoyed that. It is something I can look to in the future if I don't make it in the rotation. Around the All-Star break they moved Steve Watkins up who was doing really well. Then I got the chance to start. I started all of spring training and I was expecting to start sometime and everything went well."
He ended the year with 18 starts and had eight outings where he allowed one earned run or less. In ten of those outings he gave up two runs or less and he surrendered four or more runs in four of the starts.
His best game came on June 24 when he threw a one hitter over seven innings of work. And that performance was smack dab in the middle of a stretch where Thompson won five straight decisions. After losing two straight decisions, Thompson turned up the heat and was 4-0 down the stretch. He ended the year with a 10-2 mark and a 3.41 ERA.
It was a sign that Thompson was finally living up to the Padres expectations as well as his own.
The Padres are the only organization he knows. Given his tenure with the organization, some would be upset at the organization for not moving him up the ladder a bit quicker. Thompson has been instead stuck in traffic and at a relative standstill.
"Not really," Thompson replies to being upset at the slow progress. "My first year, I really, really struggled. I had a little bit of dead arm because I threw quite a bit in high school and summer ball before I signed. Then having to pitch 60-70 innings in summer ball — the most I have ever thrown — my arm was tired. These aren't high school hitters so you can't blow it by everyone.
"It was a rough start and then the year after that was so-so, 2001 was an alright year and then 2002 wasn't good. Until last year I haven't really had a successful season."
His views of himself are one of many reasons the Padres remain high on Thompson. His character and mental approach have always exceeded the norm and he understands that his best is yet to come. Rather than allowing it to bring him down, the righty from Colorado responded with fervor.
He could have wallowed in misery but they were giving him another chance and this time at Double-A. It was a challenge he was willing to accept.
"Until this year it is kind of amazing," Thompson laughs. "Speaking to Tye Waller the other night, ‘it just takes some guys longer.'"
Thompson's day has finally arrived and the Padres are thrilled.
Denis Savage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Padres Prospect Interview: Mike Thompson
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