Rays Prospect Profile: #31 Jake Thompson

We continue the Rays 2012 Top 50 Prospect Shuffle with a look at starting pitcher Jake Thompson who comes in at #31 in our rankings. The 22 year old was part of the Rays' heralded 2010 draft class that also included Josh Sale, Drew Vettleson, Justin O'Conner, Derek Dietrich and Ryan Brett. Inside we examine his background, scouting report and future outlook.

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Jacob Thompson

Position: Pitcher
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 225 lb.
Born: 8/8/1989 in Cerritos, CA
Age: 22
College: Long Beach State University
Acquired: Drafted in the 2nd Round of the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays
Signed For: $555,000

Player Background

Jake Thompson had an unusual start to his college career at Long Beach State. Due to high school transfer rules in California, Thompson missed all of his junior season despite being allowed to practice with the team. He graduated from Wilson High School a semester early after electing to get his GED and consequently played his freshman season at Long Beach State when he normally would have been a senior in high school.

In 2008 as a true freshman he started 13 games and pitched 67.1 innings while posting an earned run average of 4.95. His next season he regressed slightly as a sophomore going 4-7 in 14 starts while pitching to a 5.61 earned run average in 85 innings. He also allowed 103 hits and struck out 42 hitters.

In 2010 he made 14 starts for the 49'ers and as in previous seasons pitched inconsistently. At times he was dominating, but he also suffered through severe bouts of command loss and wildness. For the season he went 5-4 in 14 starts and struck 73 hitters in 90.2 innings. His earned run average was again over five resting at 5.16, and he allowed 102 hits and 23 walks.

Despite his less than stellar collegiate career he was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 June Amateur Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays based on positive scouting reports and his above average arsenal of pitches.

He began his professional career in the Short Season A New York-Penn League with the Hudson Valley Renegades shortly after the draft. He was extremely impressive right from the start and in 10 games (7 starts) he pitched to a 1.35 earned run average while allowing only 28 hits and 6 walks in 40 innings pitched.

He was then promoted to the High Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs at the end of the season where he made two stellar starts pitching 11 innings of shutout ball while only allowing two hits. Going into the 2011 season he was a pitching prospect that a lot of people were talking about, not only in Rays' circles, but nationally as well.

2011 Performance

At first glance Thompson's 2011 season seems like a good one. He went 5-7 with a 2.90 earned run average in 22 starts for the High Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs. Not bad right? When you delve deeper into the numbers though you see a couple of disturbing things.

The first thing that jumps out about Thompson in 2011 is his strikeout and walk rate. He went from 6.9 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 in 2010 to 4.4 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 2011. Overall he struck out 56 and walked 37 in 114.2 innings. His opponents batting average also ballooned from .172 to .267.

Another statistic worth noting is Thompson's ground out/air out ratio from both season's which is nearly identical (1.15 in 2010, 1.17 in 2011). This indicates that his stuff was still generating the same types of outs, but was also resulting in a higher rate of hits. This very well could be due to the jump to High Class A, for it isn't uncommon to see some initial regression after a bump up in the level of competition a pitcher is facing.

One final statistic that is telling is the amount of strikes Thompson threw in 2011. His strike percentage was nearly 77% (553 strikes in 722 pitches) and his batting average on balls in play was .296. Thompson was consistently living in the zone and pitching to contact in 2011 and may have been the recipient of some bad luck. In other words, even though Thompson's walk rate went up in 2011, overall he actually demonstrated pretty good command.

The small sample size from 2010 (51.0 innings) makes it difficult to quantify how much of a regression Thompson really suffered in 2011. He was a notoriously streaky pitcher in college, and his first two pro seasons are so dissimilar that it is difficult to project what to expect from him going forward. Another season of data should better indicate his ceiling as a pitcher

It is also worth mentioning that he missed all of May with an elbow injury, and that could have been the biggest reason of all for his regression in 2011. Sometimes you need to look beyond the stats and take factors like that into consideration, and in some ways it taints the 2011 data pool.

Scouting Report

Thompson effectively has three pitches, a fastball that is in the 89-93 mph range, a vastly improved slider that he throws at 87-89 mph, and a change-up that is still a work in progress, but can be a plus pitch at times.

Physically he is big and strong and has drawn comparisons to former Major League closer Troy Percival. He had an injury-free track record in college, and his strength, durability, and ability to maintain his stuff deep into ball games make him a candidate to be a mid-rotation innings-eater type pitcher.

While working in shorter stints Thompson has been able to throw his fastball as high as 96 mph. However it is a bit straight and is often up in the zone and hitter's generally get good contact off of it which is evident by his low strikeout and high hit rate last season.

I had a chance to talk to a scout about Thompson who had this to say:

"The kid is a competitor. I really like the way he competes on the mound. His delivery and mechanics have improved since I last saw in the Cape Cod League. His fastball and change-up are both plus pitches, but he needs to work on his breaking stuff which he tends to short-arm at times. Physically and mentally he is a good prospect, but he either needs to develop an effective third pitch or be converted to a reliever. His frame and durability project well as a starter, but I have doubts about his ability to repeat his mechanics consistently over the course of a start."

A second scouting report of note is that of Baseball America's Bill Balew who named Thompson the Rays' #10 prospect prior to the 2011 season.:

"Thompson has the stuff, frame and mound presence to eat up innings in the middle of a big league rotation. His fastball usually sits at 92-94 mph and touched 97 during his debut. He picked up a mid-80s slider during the spring at Long Beach State, and it showed more consistency and peaked in the upper-80s in pro ball. His changeup can be a plus pitch at times, though it gets too firm on occasion. Hudson Valley pitching coach Jack Giese worked extensively with Thompson to improve his slider and mechanics. He no longer flies open or rushes his delivery, which led to improved command."

It is worth noting that Thompson is a bit behind in his development relative to his age, having missed his entire junior year in high school and being held back some as a freshman at Long Beach State. The reports on his stuff, body and make-up are good, while his results statistically in college and a year and half professionally have been wildly inconsistent.

Below is video of Thompson warming in the bullpen before a start for Long Beach State in the Spring of 2010.

Future Outlook

Depending on who you talk to, Thompson's future is either as a mid-rotation starter or as a reliever. As noted in the scouting report section, his body type lends itself well to enduring the grind of a long baseball season. Conversely his fastball/change-up combo would play well in the bullpen, especially if he can bump up his fastball velocity into the high nineties which he has been able to do for short bursts.

I think it would serve him well to get at least another half season of experience in Class A ball. While already 22 years old, in terms of pitching age he is actually a year younger. The Rays are notoriously cautious with their young pitchers, so Charlotte to start 2012 seems like a safe bet. If he does begin the season at AA Montgomery it will be because he showed the team something during minor league spring training.

Ranking Philosophy

Between the lack of results in college, the strange statistical trends at Charlotte last season and his positive scouting reports, it is hard to know where to rank Thompson. Personally, I think his great 2010 season in Short Season A ball created a little too much hype in certain circles and his ranking going into 2011 was bloated because of it.

You never like to hear the words "pitcher" and elbow" in the same sentence. By all accounts Thompson's arm is sound, but given the significant drop in his strikeout rate in 2011, it does at the very least warrant a little concern. Because he pitched only 51 innings in 2010 and may have not been pitching at 100 percent in 2011, we may not have seen the best from Thompson yet. I think next season will be the true barometer on what kind of prospect Thompson will be going forward.

I want to see a consistent and dominant 2012 before I consider him one of the system's best pitching prospects. It really comes down to whether you value results or scouting reports more highly when ranking Thompson. I can tell you that after talking to a couple of the guys at RaysProspects.com, that that they too had a hard time trying to figure out how to rank him.

None of the four writer's who posted their Top 30 lists this week had Thompson ranked. Conversely, on the site's 2011 Pre-Draft List Thompson was ranked at #15 collectively, and Doug Milhoan had him at #7. This of course was only after about 20 innings from Thompson at that point in the season due to the time he missed from his elbow, but it is interesting to see how much his stock has fallen among those who have covered the Rays' system for awhile.

John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at raysdigest.com@gmail.com.


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