Thompson getting experience in Arizona

Right-hander Aaron Thompson is one of three Australia natives to sign with the Rangers since the club renewed its efforts in the Pacific Rim nearly three years ago. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 19-year-old to discuss his journey to professional baseball.

Since the Texas Rangers hired former big league pitcher and Japanese Pacific League coach Jim Colborn to lead the organization's Pacific Rim operations, the club has signed three Australia-born prospects.

Pitcher Aaron Thompson was the second Aussie player Colborn signed, as he inked with the Rangers prior to the 2009 campaign.

Thompson was initially scouted by Barry Holland, the same Australia-based Rangers scout that discovered right-hander Tim Stanford and catcher Guy Edmonds. He was later signed by Colborn.

Though he certainly isn't from the Caribbean, Thompson got his feet wet by working as a starting pitcher in the Dominican Summer League during the '09 season. He made 14 total starts for the Rangers' DSL clubs, posting a 4.50 earned-run average over 50 innings. Thompson yielded 50 hits while walking 31 and striking out 33.

The 6-foot-0, 205-pound hurler finished his debut summer strong after getting out to a slow start. Thompson hurled a seven-inning, two-hit shutout last August and showed the improvement necessary to warrant a state-side assignment for his second season.

Over his first offseason, the right-hander logged a few innings with his native Queensland in the Claxton Shield, a national tournament for some of the country's young prospects.

Thompson spent the 2010 campaign getting accustomed to living––and playing baseball––in the United States for the first time. He pitched at Extended Spring Training before working in the rookie-level Arizona League.

By season's end, the 19-year-old made just nine appearances for the Surprise Rangers. Though he didn't permit an earned run in five of the outings, a couple rough late-season appearances ballooned his overall ERA to 7.30 in 12.1 innings.

Thompson flashed a fastball that ranged anywhere between 83-89 mph with some natural sink and run. He also mixes in a curveball and a changeup. As the hurler mentions in the following interview, he focused on maximizing his velocity through the season.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with the Australia native to talk about his journey into professional baseball, his experiences since signing, and his development with the Rangers organization.

Jason Cole: The obvious thing to begin with is that you're from Australia and playing baseball in the U.S. How did you get into playing baseball?

Aaron Thompson: I've played it since I was like six years old. It was pretty fun. I had a couple mates that played with me and we all kind of stuck together. I just kept playing it and we kept competing against each other to see who could get better. That eventually led me to my national tournament and I got signed out of that, which was really good and fun.

Cole: Was it Jim Colborn that signed you?

Thompson: Yeah, correct.

Cole: How much had he been watching you in the past? Was it just that national tournament where he saw you?

Thompson: We had an Australian scout who watched me for him. I had played with him a little bit at the Australian academy. I had been playing––pitching and catching––around him for maybe two years.

Cole: What is the scout's name?

Thompson: Barry Holland.

Cole: Is he the same scout that signed Guy Edmonds and Tim Stanford?

Thompson: Yes, he is.

Cole: What was it that drew you to the game of baseball? Did you ever get a chance to follow it much when you were growing up?

Thompson: No, not really at all. We have two matches per week on TV. It was just playing it with friends and stuff. It was the only game that was more difficult to play than the others. Australian football––that's fairly easy compared to baseball. It's not easy to hit a little ball.

Cole: Had you ever played Australian football?

Thompson: Yeah, I did. I played Aussie rules and rugby, which was a lot of fun.

Cole: How long did you play it for?

Thompson: I think two years.

Cole: What ages were you?

Thompson: I was 14 and 15 when I played it.

Cole: Most people in the U.S.––including myself––don't know a whole lot about the game. I know that the field is massive. How difficult is the game in terms of the toughness factor?

Thompson: Physically, it's really taxing. You're going to run maybe 20 kilometers per game. That field is just massive and you're running up and back, up and back. I always found it was fun, physically. I liked having a smaller guy run at me so I could tackle him. I liked being able to kick the ball 50 meters-plus. That was kind of my strength.

Cole: You didn't come to Arizona right after you signed. Instead, you spent a year playing in the Dominican Summer League. Tell me about that experience. Did you know anything about the Dominican Republic going into it?

Thompson: Nothing at all. I had no idea what was going on down there. I got told to bring bottled water and just normal clothes.

Cole: And then just show up and play baseball?

Thompson: That's it. Just show up.

Cole: How much did it help that you had a fellow Aussie like Tim Stanford there?

Thompson: It really helped me. It definitely made it so much easier. Without of that, I think it might have almost killed me.

Cole: Did you speak any Spanish coming into it?

Thompson: No. None at all.

Cole: Do you speak it now?

Thompson: I can speak a little bit. I can tell them to shut the door, be quiet, and go to sleep. But that's about it.

Cole: Tell me about the season you had out there. I know you finished with a 4.50 ERA in exactly 50 innings.

Thompson: It felt alright. I think I could have done a lot better. But for my first year––they kind of said I did good for my first year. I could have done a lot better because I had a lot of starts that didn't go as well as I'd hoped. But I kind of found my groove and got my complete-game shutout late in the year. I thought I finished strong.

Cole: After one season in the Dominican, you were brought over to the U.S. for Arizona League. Had you ever been to the U.S. before you came at the beginning of April?

Thompson: No, not at all.

Cole: How much different is the day-to-day life here from what you're used to back at home?

Thompson: Compared to Australia, it's pretty nice. It's hot out here. It's bloody hot. But it's kind of similar. The cars––driving on the wrong side of the road. It's fairly similar.

Cole: From talking to Tim Stanford, he's told me that it gets ridiculously hot in Sydney. Is it the same way in Queensland, where you're from?

Thompson: It's more humid in Queensland. But we get a cold breeze that brushes through from the beach. It hits the 70s or 80s but it's maybe 80 or 90 percent humidity. Out here, it's like I'm walking on thin air. It's awesome. It's so light.

Cole: With the seasons reversed, you're living in the summer for 100 percent of the year, aren't you?

Thompson: Yeah, correct.

Cole: Do you miss the winter at all?

Thompson: Yes and no. I definitely love the tan, you know. The girls love it.

Cole: Did you pitch at all in Australia this past offseason?

Thompson: Yeah, we had the Claxton Shield, which is like the first year of the Australian Baseball League. We've got the second year coming up. I played in that as much as I could. I relieved for Queensland, which was fun. I had a good coach, Luke Prokopec.

Cole: Prokopec pitched in the big leagues for a few years. What were you able to pick up from a guy with experience like him?

Thompson: Curveball and changeup. He just helped me out with that a lot.

Cole: What have your thoughts been on your first year pitching in Arizona?

Thompson: I'm actually really happy with how I'm throwing. I'm getting more down toward the knees. I've increased my velocity by like four miles per hour since last year. I'm topping out at 89 at the moment, and I'm happy about that.

Cole: When you're using a radar gun in Australia––kilometers per hour or miles per hour?

Thompson: No, we use miles. We have kilometers, so we have to explain to everyone that while we go by kilometers, we throw in miles per hour. So it's about 140 or 150 kilometers per hour.

Cole: Tell me a little about your game on the mound. What is in your repertoire?

Thompson: I've got a four-seam fastball, a curveball, and a changeup. The changeup has been an on-off pitch––sometimes it's on and sometimes it's off. It usually drops off the table when it's going well. My curveball, again, can be on and off. It's a 12-to-6 break––maybe a little more 1-to-7. I'm still working on my fastball. I'm getting more velo on it now, which is good and I'm happy with that.

Cole: Even though you throw a four-seam fastball, it seems like you have some movement on it. Is there anything you do that leads to it or is it just natural?

Thompson: It's just normal. It kind of turns itself on and off because sometimes it moves and sometimes it doesn't.

Cole: Talk about some of the things you've been working on out here. What have you been trying to improve upon?

Thompson: I'm really trying to work with my fastball. I want to improve it. That's my number one pitch. I need to get it down to the knees and not sitting on a tee for the batters. I've been working on that a lot. And my changeup. I've been working on that to mess with the hitters' timing.

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