Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Lehigh Valley's Thompson could be next Phils starter

J Thompson 2
Thompson, image- Jay Floyd

ALLENTOWN, Pa- With some less than ideal efforts coming from the Phillies’ starting rotation in recent weeks, Triple-A starter Jake Thompson’s recent dominance of the International League could have him in line to fill a void at the big league level very soon.

In his latest six starts for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the 22-year-old, who was acquired as part of last summer’s trade that sent Cole Hamels to Texas, Thompson has tallied a 3-0 record with a 0.85 ERA.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing this season for the right-hander that was originally a 2nd round draft choice of Detriot in 2012. Through four April starts, Thompson was the owner of a 6.16 ERA. Recently, though, he has looked more like the dominant starter that the Phillies assigned to Double-A Reading last year when he led them into the postseason with a 5-1 record and 1.80 ERA in seven regular season starts following the trade.

Improvements for the Texas native since that troubling opening month this season have been directly tied to his physical workings on the mound.

“I finally got my mechanics overall in a place where I am consistently feeling comfortable on the mound. That’s the biggest difference,” Thompson said. “This little stretch that I’ve gotten on where I’ve been throwing well, I’ve just been able to put my body in the right position to throw.”

Of late, Thompson has been on point, locating his pitches well with sharp and refined secondary offerings. An ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes while keeping his body under control is the key for Thompson. He works daily with his pitching coach Dave Lundquist to keep things together.

“It's just him not trying to do too much,” Lundquist stated. “You know, then you kind of get to see what I saw last year in Reading, which is a confident young pitcher and we're getting to see that again.”

Between his Eastern League postseason run with Reading last year and now his 2016 campaign with Lehigh Valley, Thompson has enjoyed the opportunity to pitch in the Phillies’ regional backyard.

Thompson, who was ranked as the Phillies’ number two prospect heading into this season, finds it exciting that those in attendance at the IronPigs’ home venue, Coca-Cola Park, aren’t just there for a night out. They’re invested in the team and the players climbing toward the big leagues.

“Hopefully, they’ll be able to say 10 or 11 years from now that they’ve been watching me pitch since I was (21 years old) in the minor leagues,” Thompson said. “It’s awesome how passionate they are. Not even just for the Phillies, but the people that come out to these games, they want us to win. They’re not just here to hang out and have a beer and eat bad. They’re into the games and they want us to win here too. “

Looking forward to a time when he’ll be pitching at the top level, Thompson hopes to be able to do that with several of the players he has bonded with dating back to last year’s Reading team, many of whom (Andrew Knapp, J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams and others) are among the Phils’ top prospects. He says that chemistry is already a big factor for this core group that is expected to help the team return to the postseason hunt.

“We all know each other we all love playing with each other. I think all of us keep each other in line. It’s just-- it’s a cool feeling,” Thompson stated. “You don’t get to do that a lot in the minor leagues with all the player movement and transactions, so it’s pretty cool.”

Thompson made a pair of appearances for the Phillies during their spring Grapefruit League schedule, throwing five innings without allowing an earned run.

The sampling of the big league life during the pre-season has left the six-foot-four 235-pounder thirsty for an additional taste of the top level of the sport.

While it appears as though the Phillies, who have seen starter Aaron Nola post a 13.50 ERA over his last five starts and Adam Morgan sport a 6.55 ERA over 11 outings in a starting role, would welcome the addition of a hot arm to their starting rotation, if that opportunity doesn’t come this year for Thompson, he won’t be disappointed as long as he takes the strides he feels are necessary to move closer to that dream.

“My biggest thing is I want to finish this year feeling like I got better, like I got something out of it. So, I just got to keep working on it day by day and, hopefully, I get there.”
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