Matt Thompson's professional debut in 2008 was a little rough, to say the least.
While he showed good raw stuff, Thompson had little in the way of command and pitchability, and he surrendered 23 runs [11 earned] on 25 hits in just 8.1 innings with the AZL Rangers.
The right-hander showed quick progression at least year's Fall Instructional League, and he impressed once again in 2009 Spring Training.
Then, in the 2009 regular season with short-season Spokane, Thompson began to prove himself with official statistics.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Burleson native made 15 starts for Spokane in '09, posting a 4.38 earned-run average. He logged 72 innings, giving up 87 hits, walking 10 and striking out 53.
More importantly, Thompson progressed from month-to-month. With each month in Spokane, Thompson became less hittable, his walks declined, and his strikeouts rose. In six August starts, Thompson was 3-1 with a 2.78 earned-run average.
The 19-year-old worked anywhere between 88-94 mph with the Indians, but he generally sat around 91-93 mph. In addition to improved fastball command, he developed a usable changeup and his tight-spinning curveball looked like a future plus pitch.
Thompson's above-average stuff was impressive, especially when mixed with his outstanding control. Over his final ten starts, spanning 50.1 innings, Thompson surrendered just four walks. He walked only one batter [while striking out 25] in 32.1 August frames.
The prospect is currently attending the club's instructional league for the second consecutive year. He appeared in his first game on Wednesday, pitching two innings.
Lone Star Dugout spoke with Thompson on Thursday afternoon.
Jason Cole: You had your first full season in pro ball this year, and you pitched at Extended Spring Training and then with the Spokane Indians. What were your final thoughts?
Matt Thompson: I started off a little slow. Then I made some adjustments pre-game and during-game. Things that helped me throw better and helped me understand hitters more. Towards the end of the year, I started feeling better and throwing better.
Cole: What were some of those adjustments that you mention?
Thompson: Just having a routine before I pitch. Doing different things every single day to get me focused for the game. Little things on the mound, like having better balance point. It helped me throw the ball over the plate more than I usually do.
Cole: I know you threw a ton of strikes this season. Had you ever had a problem throwing strikes in the past?
Thompson: No. I've usually had more walks than this year. Having better balance has made me have more command of my fastball and it has lowered my walk total.
Cole: I don't know if you've looked at the numbers, but over your last ten starts you had 50.1 innings and just four walks. What do you make of that?
Thompson: It had a lot to do with my catchers' pitch calling. They did a really good job. We were just mixing up a lot of pitches. Controlling the fastball was huge–hitting spots where I wanted to, when I wanted to.
Cole: You obviously had your struggles in the AZL last year, giving up 25 hits in 8.1 innings. How much of that was because of the command and placement of your fastball?
Thompson: A lot. It was huge. Coming out of high school, I thought I could blow it by guys. When you try to do that as a younger guy, you really get wild sometimes when you don't have it on certain nights.
Cole: With each month in Spokane this summer, you were less and less hittable. Is that also something you would attribute to the fastball command?
Thompson: Yeah. Fastball command and working on the changeup. I had better chemistry with the catchers up there. They got to know me and I got to know them more. They were calling pitches that were smarter. Instead of blowing it by a guy, we might bring a changeup in the right count–pretty much just throwing the right pitches in the right count.
Cole: Talk about the changeup. It seemed like you were starting to throw it quite a bit and rely on it in games with Spokane. What were your thoughts on how it developed this year?
Thompson: Coming into Spring Training, I really didn't have one. I worked with a lot of the pitching coaches out there and kind of played around with some grips and got different feels for it. Really, I was just throwing it more and more. I threw it for strikes. In Spokane, I used it more than I ever have. It turned out to be a pretty good secondary pitch for me.
Cole: Before Spring Training this year, had you ever even tried to pick up a changeup in the past?
Thompson: Not really, because in high school I was pretty much fastball-curveball. That's pretty much all it took in high school. I got to the AZL last year and found out that I needed one, but I just never really worked on it that much.
Cole: What kind of grip are you using on that changeup right now?
Thompson: I have two. I have a four-seam and a two-seam.
Cole: How often do you throw those two in relation to each other? Is there one you prefer over the other?
Thompson: The four-seam looks like a fastball, because I throw a four-seam fastball. The two-seam is a little slower, but it moves a lot more. They are pretty much two different kinds of pitches.
Cole: Is there one you prefer over the other right now, or are they pretty much about the same to you?
Thompson: Right now they're about the same. They kind of do two different things for different counts. But I like the two-seam more because it has some movement to it.
Cole: Tell me about the team atmosphere you guys had in Spokane this year. Does it feel a little more like organized baseball than a complex league like the AZL?
Thompson: Yeah. It was just a different feeling to it all. The fans had a lot to do with it–they were great. Having a team that you're around every day and that you're working your butt off with every single day, we really built some good chemistry and we had a real good run late in the year.
Cole: What area of your game do you feel improved the most in 2009?
Thompson: Pitch-wise, I would say my changeup. I think adding that different look helps a lot. It helps with my fastball as well. But I think the thing that improved the most was just my mental game.
I think I was able to learn to slow it down–slow the game down a lot more instead of being rushed and panicky. Slow it down, but also having the same up-beat tempo that the Rangers like–to get the game going and running smoothly.
Cole: We've talked about your struggles in the AZL last year, but I also believe you came right back and threw extremely well at instructs. How much did you feed off of that performance at instructs, and how much confidence did it give you coming into this year?
Thompson: Instructs last year was great. I learned a lot of stuff, both mentally and physically. It gave me confidence coming into Spring Training. I started to learn the changeup a little bit, so I brought that into Spring Training. Having three pitches really gave me some confidence that, ‘Hey, I can get guys out now.'
I kind of started to think on the mound more. Instead of just pitching like a high schooler coming in there and just trying to blow people away, I was trying to pitch and control everything that I was doing.
Cole: Your pitching coach in Spokane was Justin Thompson. He last played in the Rangers' organization in 2005. What was it like to have a coach that you at least remember playing in the big leagues as you were growing up?
Thompson: It was great. We got along real well. It was really need having him fresh out of the League, and he could really relate to me and all the other pitchers. Just little things that we could pick up from and little tips he would give. But it was great because he could relate to us and we understood.
Cole: You're at instructs right now. Have you thrown in a game yet?
Thompson: Yeah, I threw in a game yesterday.
Cole: How'd it go for you?
Thompson: Pretty well. I did two innings and I think I gave up one hit. There is still some stuff to work on, but that's what instructs is for.
Cole: What's your main focus at instructs right now? What are you trying to work on?
Thompson: Mainly my changeup. Just to make sure that I'm throwing it for strikes and taking the speed off. I want to keep pounding the zone with that thing.
Cole: Are you throwing your changeup more than your curveball right now?
Thompson: Right now I am.
Cole: Were you doing that in Spokane as well?
Thompson: My number one offspeed pitch in Spokane was usually the curveball. It kind of went back-and-forth sometimes, but mostly it has pretty much always been curveball first and changeup second. But at instructs, it's pretty much changeup first and curveball changeup.
Cole: I'm going to put you on the spot real quick. I asked Joe Wieland to name a couple of guys that have been impressive in camp so far, and he mentioned you and Chad Bell. So I want you to name a couple of guys that have impressed you so far.
Thompson: Joe is always solid. He always throws strikes and always commands all of his pitches. Chad Bell is doing really well. Robbie Ross, of course, is doing really well. Two guys that have really impressed me are Boscan and Martin Perez. They're leaders out there and they always work hard. They command all of their pitches and have a head on their shoulders when they're on the mound.
Thompson learning quickly
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