A fifth round pick in 1999 by San Diego, Thompson toiled in mediocrity until the 2003 season. That year with Lake Elsinore he went 10-11 but his 4.42 ERA, solid for the California League, showed the most promise to date. He went 10-2 with a 3.41 ERA the next year in Mobile, as both a starter and reliever.
Back for more in 2005, Thompson went 6-6 with a 3.22 ERA – and since 2003 his average against has dropped every step of the way.
Thompson allowed two earned runs or less over his first nine starts with Mobile. He had one three-game stretch where he surrendered 19 earned runs, nearly half of his 41 on the season, before settling down and regaining his composure.
Only July 27, he found himself in the starting rotation for Portland after a much-deserved promotion to Triple-A. Over seven masterful innings he gave up just one hit, striking out a season-high eight. He went on to post a quality outing in all but one of his nine starts (six innings pitched and three runs or fewer allowed).
Thompson, however, knows this isn't the last step on the totem pole.
"In my mind it's like dang, it's about time! You look back and look at the people you were drafted with and there's not many of them left," Thompson said of making it to Triple-A. "You know that you've accomplished a lot, but it's really not the main goal or the main purpose. It feels good, but it's still not the big time."
And a lot has to do with confidence and starting fast. He is at his best the first time through a lineup but will stall at times the second time through. That can be overcome with better pitch selection the second time through the lineup.
Thompson sports a fastball that tops out in the upper eighties, a curveball and his best pitch – the cutter. "The best cutter would be Mike Thompson," catcher Luke Carlin said when asked who had the best stuff of the pitchers he caught.
Since Thompson pitches to contact, the cutter ensures the batter rolls over on the pitch rather than hitting it sharp. Thompson wants the batter to hit the pitch because of its lateral movement at the end. The hitter swore he got good wood on the ball until he looked up to see a weak grounder or lazy fly ball into the outfield.
"Outstanding," Tye Waller, the Padres' former director of player development, said. "He continued to make pitches and hit his spots. He has become a pitcher."
Re-signed as a six-year minor league free agent, Thompson still has work to do before realizing the dream.
Given his performances over the last few years – the ones that are getting better and better – it may not be long. If he can be effective this coming year, spot starts with San Diego would seem the logical step. It will depend on what he does with those opportunities.