Note: For this report card, I am only grading Thompson on his major league production. He set triple-A on fire and would score straight-A’s for his time in Lehigh Valley while four-and-a-half years younger than the average player in the International League. He threw 129.2 innings with a 2.50 ERA, the best mark in the league by over a half of a run, including going 8-0 in his final 11 starts with a 1.21 ERA and 0.942 WHIP.
The last time you saw Jake Thompson, he was pulled after four innings of work trailing 3-0 against the New York Mets during a game that in a few short innings would become the worst shutout loss in modern Phillies history.
The next 14 unanswered runs – surrendered by the likes of Phil Klein, Colton Murray, Frank Herrmann, Patrick Schuster and Luis Garcia – went a long way toward the bullpen’s MLB-worst 7.88 ERA in September. Not exactly a batch of world-beaters.
The start was the last of 10 for the 22-year-old after an August call-up, his first taste of the big leagues with his third MLB organization. As a prospect included in two swaps for big-name pitchers, the former second-round draft pick of the Tigers was sent to Texas as part of a Joakim Soria deal in the summer of 2014, and exactly a year and one week after that, left the dry heat of Texas as one of the four prospects sent to Philadelphia in the Cole Hamels trade.
For the least two seasons, he’s graced each of the three most prominent pre-season Top 100 prospect lists.
The last of the three pitching prospects netted in the Hamels deal to pitch for the big club, Thompson debuted on August 6, splitting 10 starts evenly between August and September before being shut down after his aforementioned start in Queens. His season inning total climbed to 182.1 IP combined between triple-A Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia, the most for a season in his career, prompting Pete Mackanin to cut his season short.
Thompson’s year-by-year innings totals are as follows. 2012: 28.1 (rookie ball), 2013: 83.1 (single-A), 2014: 129.2 (high-A and double-A), 2015: 132.2 (double-A), 2016: 182.1 (triple-A and MLB). Overall, a very reasonable workload inflation.
A rough August for Thompson was remedied with a much more stable September, as evidenced by nearly every split shown above. The lone stats that remained identical were his BB/K figures. Thompson has always been a strike-thrower with a wide arsenal of pitches, but has never truly established himself as a strikeout guy. His BB% showed promising decline as he climbed the minor league ranks despite multiple organizational switches and coaching staffs, and remained in the 7-8% range from his time in double-A with Texas through his promotion to the Phillies. At 11.8% in his 10 starts this season, it was just about the highest in his career. His 13.8% K-rate was the lowest in his career.
His fully-stocked, six-pitch mix is what I call a firework repertoire. Imagine a four-seam fastball as the center of an exploding firework. His off-speed pitches include a slider with right-to-left movement and some downward plane, a left-to-right changeup that backs up on right-handers and has fair downward movement as well, and a curveball with average drop. In addition to his four-seamer, he throws a hard sinker with arm-side tail and a cutter with the opposite action. All originating from that four-seam fastball slot, this gives him offerings that move in every conceivable direction with speed and depth variations for each.
The slider was his go-to out pitch in the minors, but he struggled with it toward his call-up. He threw it the most of any of his non-four-seam options in the majors and saw fair success with it.
In his disappointing August, he mixed up his pitches and struggled. The main adjustment he made entering September was to rely more on his four-seamer; It was the only pitch he threw more in September than August, while using every other offering less.
I think it is unlikely he continues to progress as a six-pitch pitcher. None of the six seem to be so detrimental that they are taking away from his ability to pitch as of now, but look for him to potentially scrap an offering in the future as he learns more about who he is and how he can be most effective as a major league starter.
Gun to my head, I’d guess he drops the curveball. He threw it sparingly both months – just 17 times (3.57%) in August and twice in September – and didn’t get a single whiff on it. But if his slider regains it’s minor league form and go-to status, maybe he discards the cutter that shares similar, albeit significantly less, gloveside run. No decisions need be made so early in a career, and he’s shown he’s not too set in his ways to make adjustments, be it mechanical or arsenal-related. Late in August, Bob McLure simplified Thompson’s windup by scrapping his hands-over the head trigger and molding it into a modified stretch.
My main takeaway from a ten-start major league debut is the adjustment from one month to the next. The lack of what would be understandable frustration after opening his MLB career in such a fashion is encouraging. And we should get to see a lot of Thompson this year as he presumably slots into the fifth spot in the rotation behind Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez. I’d grade Thompson’s August as a D- and September as a B-, averaging out to a C-. Still a passing grade.