Name: Sean Thompson
DOB: October 13, 1983
The southpaw has possessed the stuff and oftentimes allowed the mental part of the game to adversely affect him. Wearing his emotions on his sleeve, he would find himself sweating the small stuff – a runner on first, a solo homer surrendered, a bad defensive play.
Things began to change this season. He emerged a calmer man and a better pitcher. Sure, the little things still got his nerves worked up but he did a better job of hiding it and focusing on what he could control.
"I mean from jumpstreet we were not going to tolerate that and he improved a lot on that," 2006 Mobile pitching coach Glenn Abbott said. "His emotions would even bother him on bullpen sessions and we made sure that we talked about that from day one that we weren't going to tolerate that kind of action and we wanted him to be professional all the time, whether it is in the game or on the side or wherever it may be. And he got a lot better with that too.
"You want to be able to control it. Like I told him, ‘there are some people that can get excited and emotions take over and they pitch better and there are others that it hurts them. From what I have seen it hurts you. You have to be in control at all times.'
"In pitching that is the one thing he has to understand. He has to be in control of himself at all times when you are on the mound. Once you lose control that is when things get haywire and you make mistakes. You have to be in control. Some people can get emotional and get mad and take it up a notch. He was not one of those guys. I said, ‘you could develop into that but right now you are not that way and you have to control that.' And he did."
"The confidence thing with him, the maturity part with him is huge," Padres' roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "I saw him in Mobile; he threw the best game I have seen him throw in the four years I have been over here. As much as anything, it is the maturity level and growing up and understanding that everything doesn't have to be perfect every time out. Being able to accept that every pitch he throws is not perfect. That is what he has had to deal with and I think he is starting to accept it. It is exciting as far as coming around."
It would have been easy to be down with his Mobile team being shutout in three of his starts and not generating offense until he left the game in eight of his outings overall.
Thus, Thompson sported a 6-10 record with a 3.86 ERA. He placed fourth in the Southern League in strikeouts and placed in the top ten in innings pitched. He has surpassed the 140-inning mark in each of the past three years.
"He got shutout, gosh, eight or ten times," said Abbott. "He got shutout quite a bit and there is nothing you can do about that. He would make a mistake and get mad after giving up two runs but he learned to deal with that. He made a lot of improvement and I was really proud of him for that.
"Sean had a really good year. I was very proud of him. He made a lot of improvements from spring training on. He just kept getting better and he gained a lot of confidence in himself. I was very pleased with his progress. I would say of all the pitchers down there he made the most progress from spring training on."
"Sean was our Pitcher of the Year at Mobile," 2006 Mobile manager Gary Jones said. "He was, as far as I am concerned, before Jack Cassel got there, a stabilizer in the rotation as well. You knew he was going to go out and give you that five, six, seven innings and when he left the game we would either be winning it or still have an opportunity to win it.
"Sean Thompson battled and did a very nice job. He has that good changeup and good curveball and then he uses that fastball in and out."
Maturity has been one of the challenges he faces. He simply doesn't pitch as well when he is riled up – much like Jake Peavy can be rattled. It is tied to his confidence level and the seams burst when he allows the fire to consume him.
But emotion will always be part of his game and it continues to be a work in progress on containing it at a level that adds to his competitiveness instead of taking away from it.
The biggest stride statistically was lowering his walk totals. That came from an increased command of his fastball. He used to have trouble spotting it perfectly but worked hard to make it a go-to pitch.
Thompson's changeup has become his best pitch, replacing the hook that used to be 12-to-6 but has been changed to be more on the two-plane variety to allow for more strikes to be called.
"The arm angle thing had more to do with his curveball than anything else," Couchee said. "He had that big old 12-to-6 curveball which was a very good pitch but hard to get called a strike. The arm angle made the curveball a little bit better in the sense that it made it a two-plane curveball and made it easier to throw for a strike and get called for a strike."
But his future hinges on the fastball and its placement. The lefty must be able to not only control it, but also keep the velocity up to make his plus off-speed pitches work better. He routinely works in the mid to high-80's with the occasional 90 or 91 MPH fastball sneaking in.
"I still think Sean can be a fourth or fifth starter if he can be a little more consistent with his velocity," said Padres minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk. "He is better when he pitches backwards because he has a plus changeup and a plus curveball. His velocity is a little inconsistent and his fastball is pretty straight. I think he is going to be a late bloomer because of maturity. He has gotten more serious and more mature.
"He will be a big league contributor – and a lot of people say it will be out of the bullpen. With that being said, he does have three major league pitches, at times."
The 24-year-old attacks the zone and challenges hitters. He does have a propensity for taking more chances with the bases empty and when he misses it is in the fat part of the plate, ending up in the stands.
Thompson has an easy delivery that is more three-quarters these days to take advantage of the natural movement on his pitches. He takes advice and wants to be a big leaguer – that works to his advantage.
"We changed his arm slot a couple of years ago. I asked Towers if I could do that and he has more life now than he used to have," said Bryk. "He has a little more tail but sacrificed a little velocity but gets more movement. I like the kid. He is a good competitor. I think he is going to be a big league pitcher in the next year or year and a half."
His pickoff move remains one of the best in the system. He nabbed 14 baserunners leaning after picking off 21 the year before.
He is also the best hitting pitcher in the system with 16 hits in 63 at bats over the last two years.
There were some who believed he should have been elevated to Triple-A in 2006 but that is not an assessment we would have agreed with. His confidence was soaring, and he credits his new agent in part to the maturation, but he was having success in Double-A – and as we saw with Jared Wells' struggles down the stretch there was simply no reason to push him and have him head into the off-season on a downturn.
ETA: The 2007 season will be big for Sean Thompson. He gets his first taste of Triple-A and a good showing could have him making his debut for San Diego this year. The evidence is clear – injuries are a part of the big league game and San Diego looks in-house for the replacement. A good start will put Thompson near the head of the pack. His ability to eat innings is a huge plus. As a 40-man roster player, he will be looked at more seriously but it begins with his ability to throw strikes in the unforgiving Pacific Coast League. More likely, Thompson will debut in 2008 – and it could start out of the pen with a move to the rotation – the path of Clay Hensley.